Chelsea boss Antonio Conte complained about the “negative press” surrounding his side as he praised his players for their win over a spirited Brighton.
The Premier League champions moved up to third as two goals in the opening six minutes put them on the way to victory. Eden Hazard opened the scoring for the visitors with a neat finish from inside the box and midfielder Willian added a second from 18 yards, after a slick move that he started, to leave Chris Hughton’s side facing an uphill task. The hosts’ response was impressive. They should have had a penalty when Chelsea stand-in goalkeeper Willy Caballero upended defender Ezequiel Schelotto, while Israeli striker Tomer Hemed was brilliantly denied by the former Manchester City shot-stopper. Netherlands midfielder Davy Propper headed against the post and Schelotto went close after the break as Brighton pushed to get back in the game. Chelsea were always a threat, though, and Willian had a free-kick pushed on to the post by Brighton keeper Mat Ryan before Hazard scored his second with a fine solo effort and Victor Moses’ late goal completed the victory.
“We are unbeaten in 12 games,” said Conte. “A lot of the time the press tries to see the negative aspect, and not the positive aspect. This team, with many problems, is unbeaten in 12 games in all competitions.
“To win in this way, despite not having five important players, means every player deserves to have a chance and every player has to fight to play.
“Now we have to continue in this way. Every player showed great responsibility, and felt the responsibility. To grow in this aspect is very important for us.”
Conte could savour a first league triumph of 2018 for his side and a strong finish to the game, although he lost defender Andreas Christensen to a head injury in the second half and was already without captain Gary Cahill, keeper Thibaut Courtois and Cesc Fabregas. Hughton’s concerns continue, despite his team’s battling qualities. This defeat means they have won only one of their past 13 league games. Hughton tried something different at the back, selecting five defenders to try to halt his side’s costly tendency to concede from set-pieces. But it was in open play where they simply could not live with a team they have not beaten since 1933. Brighton, with a steady central-defensive pairing of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, have had a relatively mean defence this term – only the league’s top eight sides had conceded fewer than them before this defeat. Yet a mixture of misfortune and sloppy play cost them, with Hazard the benefactor on both occasions. First, Moses’ early cross was deflected by Dale Stephens into the path of the Belgian, who quickly found a gap to score the opener. Then Duffy lost possession, allowing Hazard to zip forward and stroke home the third. There were positives for the Seagulls. They caused Chelsea problems and, had the video assistant referee been in use, they could well have been awarded a penalty when Schelotto was felled. The industrious Argentina full-back combined well with Pascal Gross down the right flank and will soon have a £14m centre-forward to aim for in the shape of new signing Jurgen Locadia.
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