In what could easily have been a potential banana peel for the league leaders, they came at the KC Stadium expecting a fight. And that is what they got. The home side put in a magnificent performance on the day and almost snatched all three points from the champions-elect.
Both teams started with predictable line-ups with only Chelsea providing a surprise. As has often been the case in tough away matches this season, Jose Mourinho preferred to play Cesc Fabregas in the top half of the midfield, with Ramires being named to partner Nemanja Matic in the holding role. For the home side, Abel Hernandez started alongside Dame Na Doye up-front hoping to give John Terry and Gary Cahill a tough time.
Merely 90 seconds into the game and we had Eden Hazard running at the Hull defence and producing a thunderbolt of a shot. It had no answer as it rattled into the net to give Chelsea an early lead. But it looked like Hull had an answer to the goal, only to be denied by a Thibaut Courtois save. With teams like Chelsea, any miss could prove costly and it was instantly proven. Diego Costa ran at the defence, lured Michael Dawson towards him in the box and unleashed a fierce shot with his right foot from a tight angle. Goalkeeper Alan McGregor could only pick the ball up from the back of the net.
In what could only be described as complacency from Chelsea, a relatively comfortable 18 minutes later Andy Robertson ran at Branislav Ivanovic a easily one of his worst games in a Chelsea shirt a and provided a superb curling cross for Ahmed Elmohamady to slot in at the far post. A mistake from Courtois, only 90 seconds later, presented the ball straight to Hernandez in the box. The Uruguayan striker made no mistake and put the ball home. A fixture that had only seen six goals in the last 3 matches combined, had witnessed 4 goals in the space of 29 minutes.
Hulla s tactical re-shaping
Steve Bruce is a shrewd manager who has managed teams in the relegation fight before and come out of it. It was no surprise then that the Englishman had a trick up his sleeve when Chelsea came at the home side and went 2-0 up within 3 minutes of the game. In a move to probably arrest the slide, Bruce shifted from a 3-5-2 to a 4-4-1-1 to make them more compact in defence. The change worked immediately as Robertson, from the left side of midfield, made that run at Ivanovic for that first goal.
Also worth noting is the fact that Hull were testing the mettle of English centre backs Terry and Cahill in dealing with long balls. With the pacy duo of Hernandez and Na Doye running off their shoulders, the strikers gave both the veteran defenders a tough time.
Courtoisa mixed game
Apart from his quite horrendous error in judgment for the second Hull goal, the Belgian keeper had a superb game. In a way, right-back Ivanovic is also to be partially blamed for that error, as a back pass within the box with two strikers lurking is always a bad idea. Courtois should have put his foot through it, instead he chose to bring out his inner Messi, trying to dribble his way out of trouble.
However, that aforementioned save off Hernandez in between the two Chelsea goals and his triple save in the second half, more than atoned for the mistake. The three saves in a matter of seconds changed the complexion of the game as Hull began to realize the might of the challenge they are faced with.
Injury forces Mourinho to change his mind
Spaniard Diego Costa, who was run ragged all match by Alex Bruce, picked up what seemed to be a hamstring strain in his left leg with around fifteen minutes to go till the end. Only a few minutes before that, Loic Remy had been sent out to warm up expected to replace Willian to make it 2 up-front for Chelsea. However, a last-minute change in decision, mainly due to the Costa injury, meant that the Frenchman now came on for the Spaniard.
Whether it was genius move or sheer luck, Mourinhoa s decision made an immediate impact as Willian a who was supposed to have been subbed-off a and Remy combined to put Chelsea into a 3-2 lead with 13 minutes to go. It was the former QPR mana s first touch of the game. A fumble from McGregor and the ball trickled over the line to the unbridled joy of the traveling supporters. Chelsea predictably shut shop bringing on Kurt Zouma for Willian and saw the game through of a massive three points in the context of winning the title.
Quality of champions
Unless there is a catastrophic mistake by Chelsea, the Premier League title seems to be well and truly headed to west London from Manchester. Mourinho has been in such situations before and has come out on top more often than not. With no more distractions in the form of Champions League matches, the Blues can and will put their entire attention on the league. Mourinho still seems to be cautious in his post-match interviews, but even the wily manager and his billionaire Russian owner know that the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet is expected to have another shiny little addition come May.