The Premier League table is beginning to take shape as we move into October and Chelsea will be desperate to put their title challenge back on track this weekend. They are travelling to face promoted Hull City, who have surprised many during the opening weeks of the season. Before a ball was kicked, they were overwhelming favourites to go straight back down, but Mike Phelan has created a good team spirit and their start has provided them with confidence that they can stay in the Premier League. This match is a bonus fixture for them and they can play with freedom, which could provide them with an advantage against a nervy Chelsea side.
Across their opening six matches, Hull have managed to pick up seven points, which has given them a platform to push on before the Christmas period. They have already played four of last season’s top eight and will be happy with the results they have picked up. Last weekend, they put in their worst performance of the season as they were thrashed against Liverpool. However, a side like Hull will always have days like that and they should not allow it to end the momentum that had been building at the KCOM Stadium.
The pressure is on Chelsea this weekend after consecutive losses in the league have reminded supporters that Antonio Conte has a difficult job on his hands. Last season was disastrous and it was always going to be hard to completely remove the malaise that surrounded Stamford Bridge for the majority of the 2015/16 campaign. The Italian wasn’t helped by the club failing to land his preferred transfer targets over the summer. In the end, they brought in David Luiz, who isn’t an awful defender, but he is unpredictable, a quality that doesn’t suit Conte’s style. Although ten points from six matches isn’t awful, losses against two rivals will have hurt and it is imperative that they return to winning ways this weekend.
Hull haven’t managed to beat Chelsea since 1988 and the last four meetings in the Premier League have finished with the Blues taking the three points. In their last season in the top flight, Hull lost this fixture 3-2, in what was an exciting match to watch. Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Loic Remy scored for Chelsea, while Ahmed Elmohamady and Abel Hernandez netted for the home side. There are unlikely to be as many goals this weekend, but it should still be an intriguing fixture and show us whether the Blues have the ability to bounce back after disappointment.
- Hull City have conceded nine goals in their last two matches, which will be a concern after they started so well.
- Last Saturday marked the first time that Chelsea were 3-0 down at half-time since May 2012.
Chelsea are vulnerable at the back at the moment and there will be opportunities for Hull this weekend. Although the visitors are likely to dominate the match, Hull will look to frustrate them and nick it on the counter. They have quality in attack and have the ability to score goals this weekend. Abel Hernandez is vital to their survival hopes and he will be a key player against Chelsea. He has big-game experience in Serie A and at international level. It will be matches like these that really motivate Hernandez and at the age of 26, there is still a chance for him to move onto a bigger side, but he must first prove that he can score consistently in the Premier League with Hull. His movement has improved significantly since his last spell in the Premier League and there is no reason why he can’t score more than ten, helping Hull to survival in the process.
The Belgian was one of the best players in the league during the 2014/15 season, but dropped off last year. If he wants to be considered a world class player, he needs to show consistency and perform at an elite level every season. He started this season in sumptuous form, but he disappointed against both Liverpool and Arsenal, which made many question his resurgence. It is crucial for his confidence that he has a strong showing against Hull, who could be the perfect opposition for him. Mike Phelan’s side have struggled in recent weeks and the Hull defenders won’t be excited about the prospect of facing Hazard in full flow. If he gets the ball and runs at the back four, there will be opportunities for him this weekend and it is crucial that he makes them count.
Michael Dawson is set to return this month, but he won’t be available this weekend. Moses Odubajo, Alex Bruce and Allan McGregor are all still on the sidelines. Ahmed Elmohamady will be missing through suspension.
John Terry could be fit to return this weekend and that would provide a timely boost after the defensive struggles of recent weeks. Kurt Zouma should also be back within a month, but he won’t feature against Hull City.
I expect Chelsea to return to winning ways against Hull City, but there is still a lot of work to do before they can be considered title contenders. Although they started well, Hull have shown in recent weeks that they are far behind the very best sides in the league and Chelsea will have too much quality for them on Saturday. That said, the Chelsea side are low on confidence and they won’t win by a huge scoreline like Arsenal and Liverpool both did against Hull.