Eden Hazard earns 8/10 as Chelsea's false No. 9 in win over Brighton
BRIGHTON -- Chelsea survived a late Brighton rally to emerge from the Amex Stadium with a 2-1 victory that moved them clear of Arsenal into fourth place in the Premier League, thanks to goals from Pedro Rodriguez and Eden Hazard.
Hazard's masterful performance for more than an hour in the false No. 9 role will only embolden those who believe he can succeed as the focal point in Maurizio Sarri's system. Chelsea also showed good resilience to withstand a late Brighton barrage after being very comfortable for most of the afternoon.
Chelsea's victory here should never have been in doubt, given how poor Brighton were until Solly March struck. Their attacking threat also dropped off worryingly once Hazard's energy levels dipped, and a side with more quality than Chris Hughton's team might have stolen a point.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Sarri stuck with the same starting XI that beat Manchester City and was rewarded with a purposeful performance from the start. His decision to bring on Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the 66th minute also helped steady the ship a little when Chelsea appeared to be rocking slightly.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 7 -- Didn't have much to do aside from punching away one cross in the first half. Perhaps could have done better with March's shot, which appeared to go under him, but his Chelsea career to date remains free from an indefensible howler. His distribution was also solid again.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 8 -- Seems to have returned to his usual high standards in recent weeks, and it was only when March or Anthony Knockhaert drifted away from his flank that they got any joy. His relative lack of height remains a problem in some situations but he more than makes up for it.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 8 -- Has become such a dependable performer under Sarri, defending with controlled aggression and winning the vast majority of his battles in the air and on the floor. Kept his head even when Brighton's goal turned what had been a comfortable afternoon into a tense finale.
DF David Luiz, 7 -- Brighton's difficulty in constructing coherent attacks meant he could play most of this game high up the pitch with the ball at his feet, where he is at his best. Glenn Murray could not find a way to trouble him and Florin Andone fared little better, though March's goal came from his area.
DF Marcos Alonso, 6 -- Was beaten by and then forced to foul Knockaert early on, then was fortunate to get away with an elbow on the Frenchman in the second half. Crashed a brilliant shot off the far post, but his defensive limitations -- particularly in one vs one situations -- should concern Sarri.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 6 -- One of Chelsea's worst offenders when it came to loose passes in the first half, he had good moments as the visitors asserted control but did not do much here to be confident of keeping his place ahead of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley.
MF Jorginho, 8 -- His poise in possession helped Chelsea settle early on when others around him were giving the ball away and he directed Sarri's press expertly. Brighton tried to mark him out of the game but lacked either the personnel or the capability to limit his influence.
MF N'Golo Kante, 7 -- Unusually sloppy with his passing early on, he settled into his work once Chelsea went ahead and caused particular panic in the Brighton defence with one driving run through the middle in transition. Still looks a little uncertain whenever he finds himself with the ball on the right flank.
FW Pedro Rodriguez, 7 -- Showed typically lethal instincts to attack the back post for the move that gave Chelsea the lead, while his movement and work rate with and without the ball kept Brighton on the back foot throughout. His eye for goal provides crucial balance in Sarri's system.
FW Eden Hazard, 8 -- Created the breakthrough out of nothing when he followed up his own blocked shot to work space and pick out Pedro, before sprinting clear of the Brighton defence to double Chelsea's lead. Drifted everywhere and did whatever he wanted until he tired in the second half.
FW Willian, 7 -- Pressed well to force Brighton's defence into mistakes and when Balogun presented the ball to him with a terrible pass, his ball through to Hazard was devastatingly precise. The other benefit of deploying the Belgian as a false nine is that Willian always looks better on the left than the right.
FW Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 7 -- Has now started or come on in Chelsea's last six matches in all competitions, and this was no meaningless cameo. His strength and ball control helped him keep the ball under fierce pressure on the right flank as Brighton pushed, stymying some of their momentum.
MF Ross Barkley, 6 -- Brought on for the disappointing Kovacic, his most notable attacking contribution was to blaze a long shot well over. Looks to be lacking a little of the rhythm that underpinned his run of good performances a few weeks ago, but was defensively solid.
FW Olivier Giroud, N/A -- Introduced to give the tiring Hazard a rest in the final minutes, he provided a more muscular focal point and helped take some of the sting out of Brighton's surge.