Simon Mail previews Chelsea's Boxing Day clash against Brighton and expects the champions to ease their way to another victory at Stamford Bridge...
"Chelsea have led at half-time in six of their last seven victories in all competitions. The Blues can be expected to get off to a fast start against Brighton and it will be difficult for the visitors to keep them out."
Chelsea v Brighton
Boxing Day, 15:00
Chelsea on course for top-four finish
Antonio Conte's side have been unable to live with Manchester City's relentless form this season although Chelsea's title defence has certainly not been anything like the disastrous one served up under Jose Mourinho in the 2015-16 campaign. The Blues are inside the top three of the Premier League and have had to handle the extra fixtures this season in the Champions League.
Chelsea's form has been pretty good although the side have come unstuck against West Ham and Crystal Palace away from home. Alvaro Morata has been a success, scoring 11 goals, in his first season in England and the Spain striker should lead the attack after missing Saturday's goalless draw at Everton due to suspension. Realistically, third-placed Chelsea will be looking for silverware in one of the cups and a top-four finish with the league seemingly out of reach at the halfway stage.
Brighton struggling for goals
Brighton were always going to find it difficult to maintain their status in their first Premier League campaign following promotion. Chris Hughton's side have been very competitive this season and have one of the best defensive records in the bottom half of the table. But the Seagulls' problems have been in front of goal with the team struggling to break down opponents.
Wins at West Ham and Swansea put them in a strong position at the start of November. But a seven-match winless run saw Brighton slip down the table prior to Saturday's much-needed 1-0 home win over Watford. Their lack of cutting edge has been apparent particularly away from home with the side only scoring five goals in their nine away league games. Hughton has prioritised bringing in a striker in next month's transfer window and this could have a significant bearing on their chances of avoiding relegation this season.
Hard to see past another home win
Chelsea are a predictably short price to win this game and there will be plenty sticking the hosts in their accumulators but they are not a betting proposition on their own at just 1.211/5. The Blues have won their last five home games in the league and this looks banker material for them to add to this run. A Chelsea win looks a very safe bet but it is worth looking elsewhere to secure a bigger price.
Brighton are seen as huge outsiders for this game and are available to back at 18.017/1. The Seagulls have been on a poor run in the league and have not beaten anyone in the top nine teams in the division. It is very difficult to make a case for the visitors pulling off an upset at Stamford Bridge. Even at massive odds, there is no temptation to back Brighton to stun the champions.
The draw is another big-priced runner at 8.07/1 although it will take an exceptional effort from Brighton to deny Chelsea. Conte's side have been held in just three of their 19 league matches and there has only been one stalemate at home. Brighton will set up to frustrate the hosts but ultimately Chelsea's superior quality is confidently expected to be too much for their opponents.
Conte's side can get off to fast start at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea have led at half-time in six of their last seven victories in all competitions. The Blues can be expected to get off to a fast start against Brighton and it will be difficult for the visitors to keep them out. Backing the hosts to be ahead at half-time and full-time offers a bigger price on the favourites and looks a solid option in a match which is expected to be a comfortable Chelsea win.
Brighton have failed to score in the last three of their four league games against the Blues, which includes both matches at Stamford Bridge. The visitors are 5/4 to score against Chelsea in this game.
Mike Dean takes charge of this game and the referee has only handed out one sending off this season after showing Raheem Sterling a red card in Man City's away win at Bournemouth back in August.
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Simon Mail's 2017/18 Season P/L