When teams go on great runs of victories or win the league, fans and media both have a tendency to look for a starting point. Some turn of events that precipitated a victorious run that ultimately culminated in league glory. If Chelsea do win the league this season, those looking for that kickstarter event will point to a game at the beginning of October, where it all started for the Blues. Chelsea was visiting Hull City at the KCOM Stadium on October 1 after suffering a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Arsenal in the previous round and their manager Antonio Conte switched his system to a 3-4-3, and the rest, as they say is history. Chelsea went on a 14 win run, only to be ended by Tottenham Hotspurs earlier this month. This Sunday, the Blues welcome Hull City at Stamford Bridge and Conte would certainly be hoping that this game also precipitates an equally successful run.
Although, from where they are, only a mildly successful run can get Chelsea past the finishing line as the winners of 2016-17 Premier League. They currently sit atop the league table with 52 points in 21 games – the same number of points they scored in the entire last season. After running through the entire first half of the league, since that fateful game at ECOM, Chelsea did stutter a bit against Spurs and then were rocked by the controversy of their primary striker falling out with the manager. Yet, they managed to beat the current Champions Leicester easily away from home. A victory on Sunday, depending on how Liverpool and Spurs play this weekend, could help Chelsea get a 10 point lead in the league with just 16 games remaining. Now that would be some stranglehold on the league and would indeed take a miracle for the other contenders to even come close to unlocking it
Meanwhile the visitors Hull City, sit eighteenth, separated by mere goal difference from Crystal Palace above them and by one point each from Sunderland and Swansea below them. They have had a slight change of fortunes too after appointing Marco Silva, formerly the Olympiakos manager. After his appointment, Hull have won two and lost one game in all competitions. They won the last game against Bournemoth after coming back from a goal down and in the FA Cup too, they beat fellow Premier League strugglers Swansea by 2 goals to nil. Marco Silva would be keen for his side to continue this form but they are now running into a traditional Big 4 challenge in the league and unfortunately for them, all four matches are consecutive – Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool and Arsenal. Silva would be hoping that his side show some steel and get as many points as possible from this extremely difficult run.
Chelsea have a full squad to select from as Diego Costa was declared fit from his supposed back injury that kept him out of the match against Leicester. Whether it was a back injury or a training ground spat with Conte, the manager has now claimed that Costa is focused on his Chelsea career and is available for selection on Sunday. Whether Conte brings him back immediately or whether he makes an example out of the Spaniard is anybody’s guess.
Hull has a pretty large list of absentees. Two of them – Ahmed Elmohamady and Dieumerci Mbokani are not available as they are on international duty in AFCON. Markus Henriksen is ruled out for 2-3 months with a shoulder injury and Robert Snodgrass is a doubt as he did not train during the week. Jake Livermore will also not be present at the Bridge after his move to West Brom. Unless Silva is forced to, he is unlikely to push new signings Oumar Niasse and Evandro against such competition
- Chelsea are unbeaten in their nine Premier League meetings with Hull (W7 D2), keeping six clean sheets in the process.
- In fact, such is Chelsea’s dominance over Hull that the visitors have not scored at the Stamford Bridge in a league match since August 2009, a gap bigger than what Liverpool’s Lucas had between his last two goals.
- Eden Hazard has scored three and assisted another in his last four Premier League games against Hull. He also needs just one more goal to reach double figures this season.
- Hull are really bad at keeping a clean sheet and have kept only one in the league this season – back in August versus Swansea.
After his spat with Diego Costa, Antonio Conte changed his formation slightly in the match against Leicester City. Eden Hazard played upfront as a False Nine and was able to harry the champions’ defense enough for his team mates, Alonso and Pedro to score three goals. As mentioned above, he loves playing against the Tigers and has quite an incentive to score himself in this match as a goal will move him into double figures of goals scored. Even if Conte patches up with Costa and recalls him to the eleven, Eden Hazard is a sure starter and definitely one of the stars to whom the manager looks for goals and movement up front. I don’t think Hazard will disappoint Conte on Sunday.
Hull do not have the problem of plenty faced by Chelsea. They need goals to stay up and Abel Hernandez provided two of those in their last match versus Bournemouth. Although prior to the Bournemouth game, he had scored only two goals in the previous 30 matches. So Hull will be desperately hoping that Hernandez has turned a bit of a corner and will be able to contribute goals, especially in the highly difficult next few matches. So far in the league, he has scored three and assisted one goal in 755 minutes on the pitch i.e. a goal contribution every 189 minutes i.e. every two games. Hull would certainly hope that he is able to bring this number down soon.
Chelsea versus Hull is a story of complete domination by the Blues. The story is unlikely to change on Sunday, especially given Hull’s penchant for giving away penalties – 10 so far in the league and their leaky defense in general. If Snodgrass does not play or is not 100 %, Hull will also miss their only consistent goal threat, meaning even more pressure on Hernandez. I do not see Hull getting any points out of this encounter.
Chelsea 3-0 Hull City