Eden Hazard provides rhythm as Chelsea profit from Brighton’s slack start

There were times when the champions found this anything but a stroll on the south coast. Yet, in the end, their first league win of the year seemed restorative and will be remembered most for the exquisitely incisive rat-a-tat of passes which earned Chelsea their breathing space. There was something hypnotic about that exchange between Willian, Michy Batshuayi and the irrepressible Eden Hazard, a flurry of accurate touches fizzed first-time at breakneck speed while six Brighton & Hove Albion players, all in the vicinity, were left dizzied by it all.

None came close to an interception, each Chelsea touch dropping them further off the pace, before Batshuayi eventually flicked Willian into space to rip a finish gloriously beyond the diving Mathew Ryan from the edge of the area. This attack has been toothless over recent weeks, their centre-forwards enduring mid-season crises of confidence and the approach play too often running aground. Those deficiencies had prompted the emergency calls querying the availability of Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch and, more recently still, Edin Dzeko. But this was also a reminder of Chelsea at their devastating best, a team capable of slicing opponents apart on the counter and inspired by Hazard’s every involvement.

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Arsenal v Crystal Palace, Burnley v Manchester United and more – live!

Premier League clubs will mark the death of Cyrille Regis with a minute of applause and the wearing of black armbands at matches this weekend:

Related: A pioneer, but first a footballer: how West Brom celebrates Cyrille the King

What a day we have in store; both Arsenal and Manchester United are strapped in for some red-hot 3pm action, against Crystal Palace and Burnley respectively. Then there’s Theo Walcott’s home bow against West Bromwich Albion, plus the small fry of Paul Lambert’s first game in charge of Stoke City and West Ham will be determined to trump Bournemouth after succumbing to Callum Wilson’s hand in that Boxing Day 3-3 thriller. And breathe.

In the Championship, Aston Villa host Barnsley, leaders Wolves entertain Nottingham Forest while Sunderland do battle with Hull – the latter could prove particularly bleak. Plus, we will keep one eye on Atlético Madrid in action against Girona in La Liga and in the Bundesliga, where RB Leipzig travel to Freiburg. Before all of that gets under way, indulge yourself:

Related: Roy Hodgson: ‘Coaching is a sadistic pleasure – the suffering never stops’

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan discussing final details of move to Arsenal

  • Agreement to enable Alexis Sánchez’s Old Trafford switch
  • Armenian keen to rekindle career after disappointing spell

Henrikh Mkhitaryan was on Saturday discussing the final details with Arsenal before agreeing a deal with the club that will also enable Alexis Sánchez to join Manchester United.

No last-minute glitches are expected with the Armenian keen to rekindle his career in London after a disappointing spell in the north of England since joining United in the summer of 2016.

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Napoli fans’ scudetto fever adds to pressure on Sarri’s thin squad | Paolo Bandini

The spellbinding Serie A leaders are starting to believe in a first title since Diego Maradona but they must hold their nerve

Serie A’s winter break arrived later than usual this season. The Italian top flight is set to resume on Sunday after a one-weekend pause, having played through Christmas and New Year. If it were up to the Napoli manager, Maurizio Sarri, they would not have stopped at all.

“I would prefer to keep going,” he confessed after watching his team beat Verona at the start of this month. And, really, who could blame him? A point clear of Juventus in first place, the Partenopei had been crowned one week earlier as Italy’s campione d’inverno – winter champions – an unofficial title granted to the team that leads the way at the season’s midway stage.

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Brighton v Chelsea: Premier League – live!

Brighton & Hove Albion: Ryan, Goldson, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner, Schelotto, Stephens, Propper, March, Gross, Hemed.
Subs: Hunemeier, Kayal, Baldock, Murray, Izquierdo, Rosenior, Krul.

Chelsea: Caballero, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Moses, Kante, Bakayoko, Alonso, Willian, Batshuayi, Hazard.
Subs: Barkley, Musonda, Zappacosta, Luiz, Eduardo, Ampadu, Sterling.

Neither of these teams are in the goals. Brighton have scored just three in their last eight Premier League matches, while Chelsea have only managed one in their previous four league and cup fixtures. And form comes at a premium too. Brighton have only won three games since the start of November; Chelsea haven’t tasted victory in a match in 2018 yet, one FA Cup penalty shootout aside.

But there’s always hope. Brighton will take succour from the fact they’ve only lost two of their 11 Premier League matches at the Amex all season; Chelsea will be buoyed by the way they saw off the Seagulls easily enough on Boxing Day.

Related: Mathew Ryan: ‘English pundits tend to be critical of goalkeepers’

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Fraserburgh hoping Rangers cup tie can help repair town’s image problem | Jake Warren

The Highland League team are out to create positive headlines for a town better known for its heroin epidemic than football

Fraserburgh, or the Broch as locals refer to it, is a small town in north Aberdeenshire with a population just shy of 13,000. It is a place not much paid attention to by the outside world and a cursory Google search will highlight two main points of interest. One, it is a historic fishing port which still provides 60% of employment to the area and has Scotland’s first recorded lighthouse; and two, throughout the 90s and early 2000s it suffered from a heroin epidemic.

Tagged with the unfortunate title of the heroin capital of Britain, Fraserburgh had more than 300 known addicts, which amounted to around 4% of the town. A former local GP, Dr Sandy Wisley, who struggled to deal with the scale of the heroin problem, once remarked: “If I threw a stone now” while driving through the streets, “there’s a one-in-three chance I’d hit a junkie.”

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via Football | The Guardian