The FourFourTwo Preview: Hull vs Chelsea
Road-weary Blues try to breach KC fortress.
Steve Bruce can permit himself a brief moment of contentment as we roll into 2014. Hull were nailed on for relegation by most pundits pre-season, but the unfashionable Humbersiders have looked far stronger than forecast.
- Middlesbrough 0-2 Hull (FAC)
- Liverpool 2-0 Hull (Prem)
- Hull 6-0 Fulham (Prem)
- Hull 2-3 Man Utd (Prem)
- WBA 1-1 Hull (Prem)
- Derby 0-2 Chelsea (FAC)
- So'ton 0-3 Chelsea (Prem)
- Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-0 Swansea (Prem)
- Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea (Prem)
Split our mid-point Premier League table league in half (with Southampton in ninth and those above them all still harbouring European ambitions) and 10th-placed Hull are top of the pile among the 11 outfits who will simply be now aiming to avoid the drop in May.
The Tigers may only be nine points clear of rock bottom Sunderland, but their goal different of -3 points suggests a side clearly currently superior to West Ham, Palace, Cardiff, Fulham and Norwich.
Home form has been key, with five of Hull’s six wins coming at the KC Stadium (along with three draws and just two losses) – and Hull have conceded the least goals at home in the league (six, jointly with Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool).
All-action Scottish goalkeeper Allan McGregor and a robust back-line enthused with Bruce’s defensive acumen have been tough to breach.
Match this up against a Chelsea XI who have looked a totally different proposition away from home to their all-conquering Stamford Bridge performances, and we’ve got an unpredictable game of association football on our hands.
The Blues have been average on their travels (won four, drawn three, lost three), but a five-match unbeaten run in all competitions during which they’ve conceded just one goal will have Mourinho and his men feeling like they may be about to go on the charge.
But – as Liverpool can attest – the Tigers are capable of scalping unwary top sides who don’t perform to their maximum.
With both teams light up front (none of Chelsea’s out-and-out forwards managed to score a single goal on the road in 2013; Hull, despite bagging eight goals in two games, can’t yet be seen as an East Coast Man City) expect this to be an intriguing tango between midfield schemers (a post-shearing Tom Huddlestone, the sparkling Oscar and Eden Hazard) and wily, windswept defences.
Is there a more fun-sounding injury than Gilmore’s Groin? Be careful what you wish for: a dilated superficial ring of the inguinal canal is actually a bit of a rotter. Anyway, that’s what Hull top scorer Robbie Brady has had, but he should be mobile again by Saturday. Matty Fryatt, Joe Dudgeon and Sone Aluko remain unfit with less glamorous sounding conditions.
Chelsea are without a sore-muscled Frank Lampard, bendy-knee’d Branislav Ivanovic (knee), and anterior cruciate ligament-challenged Marco van Ginkel.
Player to watch: Allan McGregor (Hull)
Scottish goalkeepers used to be something of a running joke within smug English football circles. A number of toothless, Vaseline-smeared Caledonian custodians intent on flapping wildly during World Cups didn’t help, but it is now time to consider that English goalkeepers are now in fact the world’s laughing stock.
Have the Three Lions had a blunder-free stopper since Peter Shilton? Remember Paul Robinson’s fresh air swipe at a Gary Neville backpass? David Seaman letting Ronaldinho score from 40 yards? Robert Green’s 2010 South Africa calamity? Joe Hart’s recent blooper reel? David James’s entire career?
It’s time to retire the gag, and the form of McGregor is another reason why. The Edinburgh-born stopper has been in sensational form for Hull this term, and Bruce rightly states that “if he was English, he would be in the frame to go to the World Cup – I’m positive of that. He’s as good as anyone I’ve worked with.”
Chelsea’s midfield love a good wallop from outside the box, so expect the agile shot-stopper to be pivotal on Saturday lunchtime if Hull are to grab a point or better.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Chelsea 2-0 Hull (Prem, Aug 13)
- Hull 1-1 Chelsea (Prem, Feb 10)
- Chelsea 2-1 Hull (Prem, Aug 09)
- Chelsea 0-0 Hull (Prem, Feb 09)
- Hull 0-3 Chelsea (Prem, Oct 08)
The only way is up for Bruce in this head-to-head: he faced Jose Mourinho six times while in charge of Birmingham City, losing four, drawing two and managing to oversee a solitary goal; Bruce’s Hull were also thwarted 2-0 on the opening day of this season.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Hull have won 5 of their 10 home matches this season and their points tally at home of 18 points is a better return than Man United and Spurs.
- Despite winning 2 of their last 3 home games against top-six opponents, Hull have lost 8 of 11 in total since 2008/09.
- No side has conceded fewer home goals than Hull this term (6).
- Chelsea haven’t beaten a promoted side away from home in the last two seasons (W0 D3 L3).
- Their points return of 43 is their highest at this stage since they last won the league in 2009/10.
- Best bet: Hull (+1) Asian Handicap @ 1.85
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Tense, nervous headaches all round as Tigers back-line resists road-shy Blues. 0-0.