LONDON — Callum Hudson-Odoi marked his first Premier League start with an assist and a bright display as Chelsea cruised past Brighton, 3-0, to boost their top-four hopes and ease the pressure further on Maurizio Sarri.
Sarri picked the team many Chelsea fans wanted and they rewarded him. Hudson-Odoi tormented Brighton from the right flank, creating the breakthrough goal for Olivier Giroud, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek also grew in influence and capped his performance with a second-half screamer.
There were signs in a turgid opening half-hour that Sarri’s system may have its limitations against a team as organised and defensively focused as Brighton, and it took individual talent to break them down in the end. Fan frustration with Sarri has not gone anywhere; expect it to surface again at the next setback.
Manager rating out of 10
8 — Sarri picked a popular starting XI, which helped buy some patience as Brighton stubbornly resisted in the first half, but also the right one. On current form, Hudson-Odoi and Giroud should be in his strongest XI going forward, while Loftus-Cheek also strengthened his claim to play on the left of the midfield three.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 6 — Was a glorified spectator as Brighton failed to muster a single shot on target. Used the ball well under very little pressure and did whatever was expected of him, but this might have been his easiest day’s work since joining Chelsea.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 6 — Aside from one worrying moment when Yves Bissouma jinked around him on the byline, he defended solidly and also combined slickly with the lively Hudson-Odoi going forward. His crosses were not as good as usual or as Giroud would have liked, but they weren’t needed.
DF Andreas Christensen, 7 — Read the few moments of danger Brighton created calmly and handled Florin Andone with a minimum of fuss. Passed well out of defence, though perhaps not as incisively as Sarri is looking for, but deserves credit for the fact that Antonio Rudiger wasn’t missed on his night off.
DF David Luiz, 7 — Avoided any of the dodgy moments that characterised his display against Cardiff City at the weekend and marshalled Christensen with his usual confidence. Produced one or two passes that caused panic in the visiting defence, but generally took a back seat to let Jorginho run the show.
DF Emerson Palmieri, 6 — Had a couple of nice moments where Hazard found his overlapping runs with neat flicks, though the quality of his crossing was disappointing. His occasionally erratic positioning wasn’t tested by a Brighton team that rarely ventured out of their own half.
MF N’Golo Kante, 8 — Marked his 100th Premier League appearance with the kind of all-round performance that reminded everyone what was missing against Cardiff. Bailed out Jorginho a couple of times when Cardiff threatened to break, surged forward and even had time to miss a sitter before the end.
MF Jorginho, 8 — He may not get credit from some Chelsea supporters who have made up their minds about him, but he was excellent here. Constantly looked to pass forwards, found Hudson-Odoi and Hazard in good positions time and again and put his team in a position to create as well as dominate.
MF Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 8 — Another popular starter in central midfield, there was plenty of evidence here that he is a better starting option than Ross Barkley or Mateo Kovacic. His physicality panicked Brighton in the final third and he capped Chelsea’s win with a beautiful curled shot in the second half.
FW Callum Hudson-Odoi, 8 — All eyes were on him but pressure does not seem to faze this 18-year-old. Tormented the Brighton defenders assigned to mark him over and over on the right flank, beating Anthony Knockaert twice with excellent skill — the latter moment creating Giroud’s goal.
FW Olivier Giroud, 8 — Provided the focal point that Gonzalo Higuain has so often failed to do recently. Few of his lay-offs connected in the early exchanges but the ones that did got Chelsea driving forward, and he converted Hudson-Odoi’s inviting cross in expert fashion. Does all the little things to make his team better.
FW Eden Hazard, 8 — Lashed one early shot over from a good position and looked in danger of being crowded out until Giroud scored, but his influence grew as the game opened up. Produced the moment of class that secured Chelsea’s win and also had a role in Loftus-Cheek’s strike.
DF Davide Zappacosta, NR — Provided fresh legs and a rest for Azpilicueta.
MF Mateo Kovacic, NR — Sarri, surely minded to manage the physical burden on Loftus-Cheek, brought him on for the Englishman on 82 minutes.
FW Willian, NR — His introduction for the final six minutes allowed Stamford Bridge to give Hazard the ovation he deserved.