Chelsea have been crying out for groundbreaking craftsmanship and clinical finishing during this disappointing start to the season.
Against Brighton they got one from Cole Palmer and the other from Nicolas Jackson to earn their place in the next round.
Palmer’s cheeky pass through the legs of Brighton defender Jan Paul Van Hecke and Jackson’s first-time finish earned Chelsea a home match against Championship Blackburn, a presentable chance to progress and reach the last eight.
And maybe some bragging rights too. These two have become rivals of sorts after Chelsea raided the south coast club in search of players and staff over the past year.
Chelsea didn’t look any better last season, losing convincingly both times they met Brighton in the league, but at least got one back last night.
Nicolas Jackson fired home in the second half to give Chelsea a much-needed win
Chelsea broke the deadlock with Jackson’s first finish after Cole Palmer’s cheeky pass
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It was a particularly notable occasion for two of Chelsea’s signings bought from elsewhere.
Palmer, who joined from Manchester City, made his full debut and was Chelsea’s standout player. He worked hard throughout, took responsibility for making things happen and produced the all-important pass that unlocked Brighton.
Mauricio Pochettino, who confirmed that left-back Ben Chilwell will have a suspected hamstring injury that ruled him out of assessment late on Thursday, said: ‘Cole is a very talented player. He was the key to this victory. We can see today how good he is.”
Jackson’s goal was only his second since his summer transfer from Villarreal.
He collected many more bookings and got his fifth in just six league games against Aston Villa on Sunday, earning him a ban for Monday’s trip to Fulham. This was a much better contribution.
Solly March had a chance to equalize, but his header went straight at Chelsea keeper Robert Sánchez
Jackson was denied a second goal late Wednesday night due to an offside flag
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Sanchez 5; Cucurella 6.5, Disasi 6, Colwill 6.5, Chilwell 6; Ugochukwu 6, Caicedo 7, Chilwell 7; Maatsen 7 (Gallagher 75, 6), Palmer 8 (Fernandez 75, 6), Mudryk 7 (Sterling 68, 6); Jackson 7.5 (Broja 87).
Subs not used: Petrovic, Washington, Gilchrist, Brooking, Matos.
Scorer: Jackson 51
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino7
BRIGHTON (4-4-2): Bridge 7.5; Lamptey 6, Van Hecke 6.5, Julio 7, Estupinan 6; Buonanotte 6.5 (Lallana 78), Baleba 6.5 (Gilmour 64, 6), Dahoud 7 (Hinshelwood 70, 6), Mitoma 5.5 (Welbeck 64, 6); Fati 6 (46, March 6), Pedro 7.
Subs not used: Steele, Dunk, Adingra, Veltman
Booked: Baleba, Estupinan
Manager: Roberto De Zerbi6
Referee: Thomas Bramhall
Pochettino added: “When a striker scores it is important and I am happy for him.
‘I was again very satisfied with the performance and now happy with the victory. It is important to continue in the competition and build our confidence and momentum. I hope we can carry this momentum into the future.”
Brighton’s traveling supporters enjoyed taunting their old boys Marc Cucurella, who started from the right-back position, Moises Caicedo and Robert Sanchez, while former loanee Levi Colwill seemed to be spared.
Sánchez seemed restless. His kicking was questionable on a number of occasions, much to the delight of the away fans, but not ideal opposition to prevent that as it was an issue at the heart of his feud with De Zerbi. Pochettino insisted Sánchez’s teammates were partly responsible for not offering themselves as a passing option.
Midway through the half, Sanchez almost gifted his old club the opening goal, inexplicably passing straight to Joao Pedro, although he was lucky when the Brazilian cleared the ball.
Sánchez was then involved in Brighton’s next chance when his pass put Caicedo under pressure, but after being robbed the Chelsea goalkeeper redeemed himself with a save from Ansu Fati.
Brighton started the second half well, but fell behind after six minutes. It was a neat move from Chelsea, with Caicedo and Ian Maatsen helping the ball to the edge of the Brighton area.
Palmer took possession and nutmegged Van Hecke with his pass to Jackson, who finished first.
Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi appeared to question whether Jackson’s goal was offside but would not comment on possible complaints after the match.
Roberto de Zerbi made seven changes but his Brighton side were as slick as ever in possession
Palmer made his full debut for Chelsea following his summer move from Manchester City
There was no VAR to confirm this. If so, there might have been a different outcome when Jackson was later put through again by Palmer to score, only to see his effort ruled out for offside even though it looked like it was on.
Chelsea ultimately did not need a second goal and crossed the line after Sánchez parried Solly March’s header and Pedro narrowly skipped over in stoppage time.
De Zerbi said: ‘To win you have to score. When we had chances to score in the first half, and not the difficult ones, we didn’t succeed.
“I’m disappointed with the result, because we wanted to compete in four competitions.”