13 December 2014 1500 hours UTC
Stamford Bridge, London
Table-topping Chelsea welcome a struggling Hull City to Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon hoping to get back to winning ways in the Premier League following their first defeat of the season at the hands of a spirited Newcastle United at St. James’ Park.
The loss ended a club record 23-match unbeaten streak for the Blues, and with it, all talk of a potential ‘Invincible’ season. Manager Jose Mourinho pointed to the Premier League table following the defeat to indicate that his side were ‘more than fine’, and insisted that the other nineteen clubs in the division would like to be in Chelsea’s position. Indeed, if the midweek victory against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League was anything to go by, the Stamford Bridge outfit appear to have moved on rather quickly from the disappointing loss last weekend. The Blues, however, will be wary of the looming threat of Manchester City – now just three points off the top – and will be hoping to consolidate their position at the league summit with a home win against the Tigers.
In contrast, Hull City find themselves in the relegation zone with almost half the season played, and their recent form in the league – four defeats and two draws in the last six – does not bode well ahead of a trip to the league leaders. An encouraging point away at Goodison Park courtesy Sone Aluko was followed by yet another disappointing result in the form of a 0-0 draw against West Brom at the KC stadium last Saturday. Manager Steve Bruce and his men, however, will know that games such as this will not define their season, and will be looking to silence the home crowd and stifle a Chelsea team who, for the first time in the Premier League this season, will be without key creative force Cesc Fabregas.
Team News and Tactics
Jose Mourinho was afforded the luxury of being able to rest six of his key men – Thibaut Courtois, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian – ahead of this weekend’s game given Chelsea had already secured qualification and top spot in their Champions League group prior to the Sporting clash. All six are likely to return to the starting line-up on Saturday, along with Nemanja Matic, who was suspended for the game at St. James’ Park. Diego Costa is likely to continue up front, and will be looking to get back on the scoresheet after being unable to find the net in his last four games for the club. Cesc Fabregas will miss the game after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Newcastle.
Brazilian midfielder Ramires is expected to slot in alongside Nemanja Matic in Chelsea’s now-customary 4-2-3-1, adding his energy and drive to the Chelsea midfield. With Fabregas out, Eden Hazard and Oscar will be looking to add to their creative responsibilities in an attempt to break down what will, in all probability, be a packed Hull City defense. An early start will be crucial for the Blues, who have struggled in the past to break down defensive teams. The longer the match remains scoreless, the greater the chances of Hull City getting a result.
Chelsea’s full-backs could prove to be vital in the game, providing much-needed width to the Blues’ attack – width that was conspicuously lacking in the recent goalless draw at the Stadium of Light. Branislav Ivanovic in particular will be looking to get forward at every opportunity and stretch the Hull City defence to make space for the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian and Diego Costa. Cesar Azpilicueta, who is set to make his 100th Chelsea appearance, has also picked up a couple of assists at home in the league this season, and his decoy runs on the overlap could be beneficial to the likes of Eden Hazard, allowing the Belgian space to cut in from the left and wreak havoc.
Possible line-up (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Ramires; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Diego Costa.
Hull captain Curtis Davies is set to return and bolster the Tigers’ defense, but Steve Bruce will be without the suspended Gaston Ramirez, as well as summer signing Robert Snodgrass and top scorer Mohamed Diame as they recover from knee injuries. Nikica Jelavic is likely to partner Sone Aluko up front after continuing his recovery from an illness by playing the final few minutes of his sides’ goalless draw at home to West Brom. Hatem Ben Arfa has been left out of the squad in the past couple of games after being unceremoniously hauled off during the first half of Hull City’s trip to Old Trafford, and is unlikely to make a comeback in this game.
Hull City will likely continue with their 3-5-2 set-up, and look to congest the midfield as much as possible to allow little time and space for Chelsea’s attacking players. The Blues have been vulnerable on the counter-attack at times this season, as Bruce will no doubt realize upon studying Newcastle’s performance in the past week. The usually dependable Gary Cahill had a day to forget at St. James’ Park preceded by a poor performance against Tottenham midweek, and he could well be targeted by the likes of Jelavic and Aluko this Saturday. As a unit though, Chelsea’s defense are the best in the league, and Hull City can ill-afford to waste any chances that come their way.
Dealing with Eden Hazard might prove to be a major issue for the Tigers – the Belgian has been brilliant in his last few games at Stamford Bridge, and will be raring to go following a week off. Ahmed Elmohamady might have to check his forward runs and will possibly need the help of Meyler in midfield and Dawson/Chester on the right of the back-three in defense to deal with the Chelsea winger.
Possible line-up (3-5-2): McGregor; Dawson, Davies, Chester; Elmohamady, Meyler, Huddlestone, Livermore, Robertson; Aluko, Jelavic.
The Belgian has scored in each of his last four Premier League outings at Stamford Bridge, and will back himself to continue that run against a struggling Hull City. Hazard will be looking to take on Fabregas’ creative responsibilities in the Spaniard’s absence, and if at his best, could prove to be a real handful for the Tigers.
- Chelsea have won all seven of their Premier League fixtures at Stamford Bridge this season, keeping five clean sheets in the process.
- Hull City have won just six times in the whole of 2014, and just once since the opening day of the current season.
- A win on Saturday will make Jose Mourinho the fastest manager to reach 400 Premier League points.
Chelsea 2 – 0 Hull City
Chelsea should have too much quality for the visitors despite Fabregas’ absence, and a comfortable home win is on the cards.