A masterclass from two-goal hero Eden Hazard helped Chelsea stylishly return to winning ways with an entertaining 4-0 Premier League triumph at Brighton and Hove Albion.
Antonio Conte's men had been held to five consecutive draws – three games ending goalless – in all competitions, needing a penalty shootout to get past Norwich City in the FA Cup on Wednesday.
Progress to the fourth round came at a price, with forwards Alvaro Morata and Pedro receiving red cards, but Hazard and Willian made light of their absence with goals inside the first six minutes – the Brazilian's eighth of the campaign certainly one to trouble the end-of-season lists.
To their credit, Brighton did not buckle. Ezequiel Schelotto was unfortunate to have penalty claims rejected and Davy Propper hit the post after half-time.
Willian came similarly close to his second before turning provider on his 50th consecutive Premier League appearance for Hazard.
Victor Moses added gloss to the scoreline in the 89th minute as the reigning champions moved up to third in the table.
Brighton boss Chris Hughton sought to match up Chelsea by switching to a 3-5-2 formation – a decision that instantly looked regrettable amid a rampant opening from the visitors.
Willian and Moses both asked questions down the Albion left and Dale Stephens only partially cut out the latter's cross, meaning the ball rolled kindly for Hazard to lash home the 100th league goal of his career.
Brighton's heads were yet to clear when a dazzling second arrived, with Willian scything towards a ragged backline before being audaciously set up for an emphatic finish by twin backheels from Hazard and Michy Batshuayi.
7 - Willian has been directly involved in seven goals in his last five Premier League starts for Chelsea (3 goals, 4 assists). Movement. pic.twitter.com/TritUjtgaV— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 20, 2018
Such a healthy early advantage meant Chelsea could absorb an erratic showing from Willy Caballero, who deputised in goal for the injured Thibaut Courtois.
The former Manchester City goalkeeper was fortunate not to be penalised when he raced off his line and appeared to trip Schelotto in the box, while offside spared him after unconvincingly challenging Shane Duffy at a 20th-minute corner.
Any encouragement for Brighton was generally punctured by the irresistible Hazard, who strode forward to play in Willian once more, with Mat Ryan saving well at his near post.
The Australia international also denied Batshuayi before Caballero displayed astonishing reactions to keep out Tomer Hemed's 30th-minute header at the other end.
Schelotto had another penalty claim waved away when he tangled with Tiemoue Bakayoko, earning a booking for his protests, while Hazard displayed rare misjudgement when he floated the ball between Moses and Ryan's far post on the stroke of half-time.
Chelsea centre-back Andreas Christensen suffered a nasty clash of heads with Duffy early in the second half and was still regaining position after receiving treatment when Propper nodded Schelotto's cross against the post.
Christensen made way as the hour approached, prompting David Luiz's first Premier League outing since October.
A buccaneering run from Hazard was halted illegally by Duffy, booked for his troubles, and a combination of Ryan and his left-hand post kept out Willian's resulting free-kick.
Schelotto's all-action outing continued when he capitalised upon hesitation from Marcos Alonso but was unable to prod past Caballero.
Goals remain elusive for Brighton and this was their 13th shutout of the campaign, something recording signing Jurgen Locadia – looking on from the stands after his arrival from PSV – will hope to remedy.
Chelsea had long forgotten such problems by the time Willian's wonderful pass sent Hazard scampering towards an embattled defence to unleash another fine finish.
On the heels of that familiar combination, 21-year-old substitute Charly Musonda gave a nod towards Chelsea's next generation when his fine lofted ball unleashed Moses for a first Premier League goal in 14 months.
Key Opta Facts:
- Brighton have picked up just one win from their last 13 Premier League games (D5 L7), failing to score in nine of these.
- Chelsea extended their top-flight unbeaten run to eight games (W5 D3), their longest streak without a defeat since March (also eight).
- Eden Hazard has now scored (65) or assisted (37) 102 Premier League goals for Chelsea; taking him ahead of Gianfranco Zola (101) to outright third for the club in the competition (Lampard 237, Drogba 159).
- Willian has been directly involved in eight goals in his last five Premier League starts for Chelsea (3 goals, 5 assists), as many as he managed in his previous 20.
- Michy Batshuayi registered his first assist in his last 31 Premier League appearances, since he set up Diego Costa on his debut in the competition in August 2016.
|Dragons restore two-point lead, Sharks battle past Bulldogs|
|Any club would want Buffon, says PSG president|
|Villarreal renew Calleja contract after Europa League qualification|
|Talisca heading to Premier League, hints Besiktas boss|
|Celtics ´needed to get our butts whooped´ by Cavs, says Rozier|
|Bayern should have had a penalty, admits Boateng|
|NBA great Bill Russell released from hospital|
|When I play I´m Luca, not Zidane – Zinedine´s son distances himself from father|
|Barzagli: Buffon the greatest of all time|
|Indians ace Kluber becomes first in AL to seven wins|
|MLS Review: Two-goal Villa inspires NYC rout, Timbers stay hot|
|Kuznetsov sets Capitals´ playoff points record|
|Stevenson-Jack showdown ends in majority draw|
|Galatasaray win 21st Turkish title on final day|
|Cavaliers rout Celtics to cut series deficit to 2-1|
|Harvick holds off Suarez to win All-Star race and $1m|
|All Blacks name three new faces for France Tests|
|Mo Salah 15 years behind Cristiano Ronaldo – Klopp|
|Jaguares extend winning streak with Bulls thrashing|
|Nobody is bigger than PSG, says Al-Khelaifi amid doubts over Neymar|
|Warrington targets Frampton after Selby upset|
|Zidane says Real Madrid are ready for Champions League final|
|Heynckes: Bayern aren´t bad losers after DFB-Pokal snub|
|Everything was positive - Emery leaves PSG satisfied|
|Wise, Leishman tied for Byron Nelson lead|
|Torres, Iniesta share gift of good decisions - Simeone|
|Arrivederci Buffon - The Juventus´ greats remarkable career in numbers|
|Favre leaves Nice as Dortmund post awaits|
|´Extraordinary´ Juventus deserved Serie A title - Allegri|
|Warrington upsets bloodied Selby to secure world title|
|Sweden batter USA, Swiss roll on to gold medal match|
|Zverev battles past Cilic to extend winning streak|
|It was a penalty - Kovac acknowledges Frankfurt´s good fortune ahead of Bayern move|
|Ligue 1: Depay fires Lyon into Champions League as Troyes go down|
|Tigers tear Rhinos to shreds as Saints stay clear at the summit|
|Mourinho criticises Chelsea long-ball tactics in FA Cup final|
|Caen 0 Paris Saint-Germain 0: Stalemate closes Emery tenure as Caen survive|
|Villarreal 2 Real Madrid 2: Luca´s debut misjudgement costs Los Blancos|
|Conte reaffirms Chelsea commitment and hints at Italy offer|
|Leicester agree €20m deal for Porto´s Pereira|
|Bayern Munich 1 Eintracht Frankfurt 3: Controversial Kovac win denies new club double delight|
|I am a serial winner, Conte declares after Chelsea´s FA Cup glory|
|Courtois delighted to dispel doubts with FA Cup triumph|
|FA Cup win was to save Chelsea season - Cahill|
|Brilliant Hazard ensures Conte´s serial-winner status remains intact|
|Knight Riders cruise into the IPL play-offs|
|Mourinho: I can imagine what people would say if my team played like Chelsea|
|Mourinho: Lukaku chose not to start FA Cup final|
|Hazard shies away from future talk after Chelsea´s FA Cup success|
|Today is your moment - Juventus legend Del Piero pays tribute to Buffon|
|Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0: Hazard seals FA Cup glory in possible Conte farewell|
|Pellegrini leaves Hebei China Fortune amid West Ham links|
|Arnold sees red as Lions overpower Brumbies|
|Toulouse out as Castres advance to Top 14 semi-finals|
|Ruthless Chiefs dominate Falcons to reach Twickenham again|
|Host Pieters crashes out in Belgian Knockout|
|Quarterback Manziel heading to the CFL|
|Valverde content with domestic double in debut Barca season|
|Froome and Yates pull off British Giro one-two|
|Leinster hold nerve to fend off Munster|
|Mancini hands Balotelli Italy recall|
|Valverde sees no way of replacing Iniesta|
|Celtic complete historic double treble by seeing off Motherwell|
|No regrets for Payet after injury ends World Cup dream|
|Pjanic honoured to have played with Juventus great Buffon|
|Nadal grinds out Djokovic win to set up Rome final and shot at number one|
|Lukaku on bench for FA Cup final, Chelsea pick Giroud|
|Gopal puts Bangalore in a spin as Rajasthan Royals stay alive|
|Mijatovic advises Real Madrid against Salah move|
|Juventus 2 Verona 1: Buffon signs off on a high|