Eden Hazard was in sensational form on Saturday scoring one and creating another to make up for Fabregas’ absence as Chelsea deepened the misery of 10-man Hull City. The Blues were far from their best but struggled to victory to maintain their 100 percent home record and more importantly, a three point lead at the top of the table. The Tigers made the home team work hard for the three points and the game was highlighted by some rash challenges and a couple of controversial decisions which culminated into a red card for Tom Huddlestone after a nasty challenge on Filipe Luis.
Chelsea were looking to bounce back from defeat at Newcastle last week – their first of the season – and were coming off a comfortable 3-1 victory over Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League. Their concerns would be with the diminishing gap between them and second placed Manchester City, which has gone from eight points to three in the last two weeks. They faced an opponent who have a much greater concern however. Steve Bruce’s side have not won in their last eight Premier League games and were sitting in the relegation zone as they arrived in west London. To make matters worse, the Tigers have never won at Stamford Bridge in their history.
Despite starting without the suspended midfield maestro Fabregas, the hosts started the game on a high with some early possession and combinations. One of them had the Blues string some passes together on the right side before the ball fell to Filipe Luis on the edge of the box, but the defender opted not to shoot first time with his right foot and the chance was gone. However the West London side did not have to regret this for long. In the 7th minute, Obi Mikel won a challenge for the ball against Aluko, the ball rolled to Matic who immediately found Oscar on the left flank. The Brazilian took a couple of touches before curling a delightful in-swinging right footed cross into the box which was probably looking for Diego Costa, but instead was met by a leaping Hazard who headed home from 6 yards leaving McGregor no chance. The smallest man on the pitch used his head to put Chelsea ahead, but Hull will be complaining about Mikel’s challenge in the build up leading to the goal. The Nigerian did get a touch on the ball but followed through and stepped on Aluko’s foot. Chris Foy was unmoved and so the Belgian magician had only his second headed goal of his career and his sixth this season.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors when one minute later, Michael Dawson went down with a hamstring injury, which effectively terminated the centre-back’s afternoon. The Blues remained in control of the game and kept pressing their opponents with Willian in particular doing a magnificent job. Hull were struggling to contain the movement of Oscar and Hazard, but it was Hull’s Aluko who sent a shot fizzing wide after the visitors gave the hosts a taste of their own medicine and took the ball off Mikel and Matic deep in the Chelsea half. Jelavic passed the ball wide to his teammate who fired wide under pressure. The Blues responded with a chance of their own when 30 minutes into the game, Hazard and Ivanovic combined brilliantly on the right flank with the Serb bursting into the box, flicking the ball over Davies and setting up Costa whose first time effort was well blocked by Alex Bruce.
Chelsea’s 70% possession at this point resulted in only one shot on target and the home side did look a bit flat footed and short of ideas in the absence of Fabregas. A few uncharacteristic Chelsea errors and misplaced passes gave Hull some confidence and the visitors actually had more of the game in the final 15 minutes of the first half, but didn’t really trouble Petr Cech in goal. Gary Cahill clattered into Aluko 30 yards from goal with a poor, mistimed challenge and was lucky to catch the Nigerian with his trailing leg, otherwise he could have been shown a straight red card.
After the restart, the Tigers put together their best move of the game with Livermore’s half volleyed effort from 25 yards bouncing past Cech’s right hand post, but the keeper had it covered. After 56 minutes, Gary Cahill was in the middle of controversy again as he chipped the ball between two defenders and with both of them pulling out of the challenge, the Chelsea centre back fell theatrically and was very fortunate not to have been shown a second yellow card, especially when Willian was booked for the same offence in the first half. Just three minutes later, Costa was booked for a dive which left everyone wondering why Cahill escaped his theatrics unpunished. Most probably because it would have been his second yellow card.
There was no excuse for Tom Huddlestone however, who, getting nowhere near the ball, finished off a sliding Filipe Luis with a nasty challenge on his trailing knee and was rightfully shown a straight red card. This effectively finished off the visitors who until this moment appeared to be up to the challenge Chelsea were giving them. The one man advantage sparked Chelsea back to life somewhat and moments later there was more controversy for Chris Foy to settle when a cross from the right was flicked by Oscar onto the hand of the sliding Chester, but the centre back knew nothing about it and so play continued. Hazard then had a shot on goal from distance but it was comfortably held by McGregor. That was only the second shot on target.
In the 68th minute the Belgian, who was at the heart of everything good the hosts have done all afternoon saw an initial corner cleared by the Hull defense, but took the ball on the left side before setting on a run across the width of the pitch, exchanging a backheel pass with Ivanovic on the other side of the box which sent three Hull defenders the wrong way. Hazard then feeded Costa who turned and rolled a one time effort to the far post behind the hopeless McGregor. The goal was his first in four games and killed any hope for a Hull City comeback. For the remaining 20 minutes, the hosts weared off their opponents and hardly allowed them to leave their half, but were unable to create more chances. The only action of note coming from substitute Andre Schurrle, who won the ball off Meyler on the edge of the Hull box before feeding Drogba. The Ivorian returned the pass but just as the World Cup winner was about to pull the trigger, Meyler made up for his mistake with a stunning last-ditch block.
This was hardly the Blues best performance with Mourinho admitting “It was a game with good moments in it rather than the type of special performance seen in other matches this season, but it was a performance good enough to keep everyone calm as the Blues had it under control.” However their dominance in overall possession and failure to create many chances in the final third highlights the importance of Cecs Fabregas to this Chelsea team. The Blues have created only nine chances all game. The majority of those have come from the wings, none have come from the deeper area in front of the box where the Spaniard is positioned. Perhaps it would have been nice to have a certain Frank Lampard on the bench for matches when the Spaniard is unavailable. His experience and goal scoring record would surely be a welcome asset. By the way, Lampard scored Manchester City’s only goal in their game against Leicester insuring the Manchester team remain within distance of Jose Mourinho’s side.
In the absence of Fabregas, it was Hazard who stepped up for the home team. He was unstoppable all afternoon and caused all kinds of problems for the visitor’s defence. His performance was underlined by a fine goal and a good assist. He has not been called upon as much as last season following the arrivals of Fabregas and Costa and the rise in form of Oscar, however he proved that he still is a difference maker. He has found his form and when he is in this kind of mood, he is unplayable. He completed four out of seven take-ons on Saturday and was the home team’s highest passer with 53 passes and a 90% accuracy. A lot of his passes came in the final third and from the two flanks where he operated, trying to make things happen for the Blues.