Eden Hazard scored one goal and assisted another as Chelsea held on to beat Brighton at the Amex Stadium.
The Belgium forward set up the Blues’ opener with a wonderful pass across the face of goal for the arriving Pedro to tap in on 17 minutes.
Willian then pounced on a loose pass from Leon Balogun and played in Hazard, who ran from just over the halfway line, outpacing the Brighton defence before slotting past Mat Ryan just after the half hour mark.
Brighton, who welcomed back Glenn Murray to the starting XI after a shoulder injury, barely threatened in the first hour.
But they improved following Murray’s substitution for Romanian striker Florin Andone and pulled a goal back in the 66th minute.
Bernardo headed a cross back across goal and Solly March was unopposed as he hooked his shot past Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Seagulls fans felt Marcos Alonso should have been sent off as last man after fouling March late on, but the Spaniard was only shown a yellow card.
Chelsea withstood the hosts’ late attacks to record their first win in three away matches to stay in fourth in the Premier League, two points behind Tottenham.
Brighton remain in 13th place.
Chelsea only have one fit striker in Olivier Giroud after Alvaro Morata suffered a knee injury in midweek, but they chose to keep the Frenchman on the bench.
Hazard made up for the lack of firepower up front, starting as a false nine flanked by Willian and Pedro, and the Belgium continued his fine form.
His assist for Pedro was his ninth this season and the 27-year-old has the most in Europe’s top five leagues.
He then broke an eight-game scoring drought with his eighth league goal of the season.
Hazard has now been involved in more Premier League goals this season (17 in 16 games) than he was in the whole of last season (16 in 34 games).
His influence waned in the second half as Brighton grew into the game and his afternoon was ended by a hefty challenge from Dale Stephens, which led to him limping off in the 83rd minute.
Like Hazard, Chelsea’s performance dropped after the break and Brighton finished the stronger of the two teams.
They held on though, and manager Maurizio Sarri will surely be pleased they did not squander their lead and were able to build on last weekend’s impressive 2-0 victory against Manchester City going into the busiest part of the season.
Brighton leave themselves ‘too much to do’
Brighton were poor in the first-half and careless in possession.
Top-scorer Murray, so often the hero for Chris Hughton’s side, struggled to gain a footing, failing to register a shot or a touch in the Chelsea box.
March had their sole effort on goal in the first half, a 20-yard effort that was easily collected by Kepa.
They started the second half in the same manner and Anthony Knockaert was getting visibly frustrated.
The fact Brighton improved after Murray’s withdrawal on 60 minutes was telling and the Seagulls movement and intensity increased with the introductions of Andone and Yves Bissouma.
Brighton pressed hard for an equaliser and Sarri admitted he was “worried” about the last five minutes of the game.
Lewis Dunk had their best chance to get a point, but his header in the 92nd minute was just wide.
Hughton admitted they left themselves “too much to do”, despite a spirited last half hour.
Man of the match – Eden Hazard
Stats – Chelsea rack up the goals
- Chelsea have scored 37 goals in the Premier League this season; their most at this stage of a campaign since 2014-15 when they won the title (38)
- Five of Brighton’s six home defeats in the Premier League have come against the traditional ‘big six’ teams, including both such defeats this season (1-2 v Spurs and Chelsea)
- Chelsea have won each of their seven games against Brighton in league competition; their best 100% record against a single opponent in league history
- Brighton have kept just three clean sheets in their last 19 games in the Premier League, conceding 31 goals in this run
- Willian has now been directly involved in 50 goals in the Premier League (27 goals, 23 assists); becoming the third Brazilian player in competition history to reach this milestone, after Philippe Coutinho (76) and Roberto Firmino (64).
- Only Glenn Murray (eight) has had a hand in more Premier League goals for Brighton than Solly March this season (six – one goal, five assists).
Brighton travel to Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday (15:00 GMT kick-off).
Meanwhile, Chelsea host Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday (19:45), before Leicester visit Stamford Bridge in the league on Saturday (15:00).
More to follow.