Chelsea play hosts to Hull City in gameweek 22 of the Premier League on Sunday as they look to maintain their stronghold at the top of the English top flight.
When these two sides faced each other in October, Chelsea were a mere 3 points ahead of Hull City and were coming off the back of 2 consecutive defeats against Arsenal and Liverpool. It was against Hull at the KCOM Stadium, where Conte chose to test out his new 3-4-3 system and the Blues haven’t looked back since.
The Blues would go on a superb 13 match winning streak, which was ended by Tottenham. They now sit on the top of the table, a full 36 points ahead of Hull City who are languishing at 18th place. The Blues now have a chance to go 9 points clear at the top of the table and this is a match that may prove decisive in the title race.
No new injury concerns for Antonio Conte’s side, meaning that he will have a fully fit squad to pick from. The Blues are likely to welcome Diego Costa back into the starting XI, meaning that either Pedro or Willian will have to settle for a place on the bench and Hazard back on the wing.
Luiz, Cahill and Azpilicueta are all expected to start. These 3 will be tasked with starting Chelsea’s attacking buildup from the back itself after winning back possession, while keeping Abel Hernandez and Robert Snodgrass at bay.
Chelsea’s wingbacks shouldn’t face too much of a problem keeping Diomande and Clucas busy on the flanks for the entire game and will ensure that the duo don’t pose any threat on the flanks, whilst also providing adequate support to Chelsea’s front 3.
Matic and Kante will take up their places in the middle of the park, but Conte might choose to give Fabregas his first Premier League start this year. They will come up against Mason and Huddlestone, who will be instructed to keep applying pressure and disrupt their game.
Predicted Starting XI (3-4-3): Courtois; Cahill, Luiz, Azpilicueta; Alonso, Matic, Kante; Moses; Hazard, Costa, Pedro
David Meyler will likely be available for selection again, but Robert Snodgrass is still a doubt. The Scotsman will be assessed ahead of the game after picking up a muscle injury. Eldin Jakupovic, who started last week, will likely retain his place in the starting XI ahead of David Marshall.
Marco Silva will likely look to continue with his 4-4-2 formation, which focuses on restricting the opposition from passing as much as possible and flooding the midfield, in order to disrupt the flow of the game and try and break on the counter.
Maguire, Dawson, Davies and Robertson are likely to make up the Tigers’ back four. Adama Diomande and Sam Clucas will be deployed on the wings and they will be tasked with nullifying the threat of Chelsea’s wingbacks and wingers.
With Chelsea expected to hoard most of the possession through the match, Silva will likely instruct his midfield, namely Ryan Mason and Tom Huddlestone to apply constant pressure on the likes of Kante and Matic and reduce their influence on the game.
Robert Snodgrass will start alongside Abel Hernandez upfront, but the Scottish international will drop deep into midfield and act as a creative outlet, looking to create chances for Hernandez upfront. Their ability on from set pieces is another added threat in the Hull City arsenal.
Predicted Starting XI (4-4-2): Jakupovic; Robertson, Dawson, Davies, Maguire; Clucas, Huddlestone, Mason, Diomande; Snodgrass, Hernandez
- Diego Costa has missed only 2 Premier League games this season.
- The last time Hull City scored against Chelsea in a Premier League game was over 7 years ago, in August 2009.
- The last time Hull City beat Chelsea in a league game was in a 3-0 victory in 1988.
- Chelsea’s Diego Costa has scored in everyone one of the 3 Premier League appearances against Hull City.
- Hull City have managed to keep only 1 clean sheet this season.
- Chelsea have won 14 of their last 15 Premier League games.
- Chelsea already have accumulated more points than they did in the whole of last season.
Players To Watch
Chelsea: Diego Costa
The Spaniard is in line to make his first start since rumours of his ‘bust-up’ with Antonio Conte broke out ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Leicester City last week. It will be interesting to see how the Chelsea fans receive Costa and whether he is able to fully focus on the game after last week’s incidents.
The 27-year-old has been in superb form for Chelsea this term but is yet to get a goal this season, something he and Conte will desperately want to change. The official reason given for his absence last week was of a back injury, and it is yet to be seen if he has fully recovered.
Chelsea 3-0 Hull City
On paper, this tie seems like a walk in the park for Antonio Conte’s side. Anything other than a comprehensive victory in front of their home fans will come as a huge surprise and needless to say, it wouldn’t go down well with Conte, and rightly so.
But with new coach Marco Silva at the helm, the Tigers have won 2 of their last 3 games and after 5 months in England, Conte will know all too well the peril of underestimating any Premier League side, especially one fighting for their lives.