The FourFourTwo Preview: Chelsea vs Hull

Premier League | Stamford Bridge | Sat 13 Dec | 3pm

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CHELSEA FORM

  • Chelsea 3-1 Sporting (CL)
  • Newcastle 2-1 Chelsea (Prem)
  • Chelsea 3-0 Spurs (Prem)
  • S’land 0-0 Chelsea (Prem)
  • Schalke 0-5 Chelsea (CL)

HULL FORM

  • Hull 0-0 WBA (Prem)
  • Everton 1-1 Hull (Prem)
  • Man Utd 3-0 Hull (Prem)
  • Hull 1-2 Spurs (Prem)
  • Burnley 1-0 Hull (Prem)

The lowdown

So Chelsea’s unbeaten record has ended. That actually reduces the pressure a touch, even though Jose Mourinho claims he prioritises points over prizes. Their lead at the top has been cut to three points, but they are still very much in the driving seat of the title race, easing back into a warmed leather seat, cruise control on, Radio 4 burbling away in the background. Smoooooth.

Having stuck with a settled team all season (10 players have started at least 12 of the 15 league games, Willian another 10) Mourinho had the chance to shake things up against Sporting.

But perhaps with an eye on getting things back on track after the defeat to Newcastle, he fielded a strong team including a spine of Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa.

The resulting 3-1 win will restore confidence within the squad, even though the bit-part players know it’ll take a miracle to displace Jose’s favourites (Mohamed Salah may as well give up at this point).

As for Hull, this match is another Brucey bonus – a point would be more than anyone expects from the ex-defender’s team. After this they’ll have played away at Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton, which will make for an easier 2015.

And yet... the Tigers’ dreadful recent record can’t be brushed under the carpet.

They seemed to enjoy a very good transfer window, making a healthy – and rapid – profit on Shane Long while signing talented players in Abel Hernandez, Mohamed Diame, Hatem Ben Arfa and Gaston Ramirez (all four on transfer deadline day).

However, due to injury and form, Steve Bruce has lately picked more of the players who got them promoted: the likes of David Meyler, Stephen Quinn and Liam Rosenior. The manager has admitted “it hasn’t worked just yet” for Ben Arfa, and the same for “the people we brought in to give us that extra dimension”.

There’s a real shortage of goals in the side. They’ve scored two in seven matches now: one a potshot from distance (Jake Livermore against Tottenham), the other a combination of fine individual play and poor goalkeeping (Sone Aluko against Everton).

But even though their struggles aren’t new – Bruce’s boys have won two games all season – this is the first time Hull have been in the relegation zone in over 15 months.

Team news

Cesc Fabregas is suspended, but John Obi Mikel played well against Sporting and Chelsea do at least have an almost fully fit squad: Nathan Ake (hamstring) is the only man crocked.

Hull are relatively injury-free too, Diame (knee) giving long-term absentee Robert Snodgrass some company in the treatment room. Poor Snoddy must be feeling very lonely in there.

Key battle: Diego Costa vs Michael Dawson

Hull played with two central defenders in their recent draws with Everton and West Bromwich Albion, but Bruce often favours an extra defender away at bigger teams.

If so, current centre-back pairing James Chester and Michael Dawson may be joined by Alex Bruce or Paul McShane but club captain Curtis Davies, benched of late, looks the most likely candidate.

If Hull do go with a back three, Dawson will be in the middle and therefore dealing primarily with Diego Costa. Dawson’s turn of pace, or lack thereof, is well known but a game such as this requires a deep backline, which plays to his strengths.

Costa is far more mobile but the extra defender will help to track his movements, while Dawson can look to dominate the strength and aerial battles, preferably keeping Costa with his back to goal.

The Brazilian Spaniard hasn’t netted in four games, an unusually long run for him, so he’ll be itching to get on the scoresheet. It’ll be an interesting (and potentially very one-sided) tussle.

LAST FIVE MEETINGS

  • Hull 0-2 Chelsea (PL, Jan 14)
  • Chelsea 2-0 Hull (PL, Aug 13)
  • Hull 1-1 Chelsea (PL, Feb 10)
  • Chelsea 2-1 Hull (PL, Aug 09)
  • Chelsea 0-0 Hull (PL, Feb 09)

The managers

Bruce has conceded his team haven’t been firing on all cylinders but insists injuries haven’t helped. Now he has a mostly fit squad, it’s time to show why he’s so highly rated and respected by other managers in the game. Meanwhile, Mourinho says he told Ruben Loftus-Cheek before sending the 18-year-old on for his debut against Sporting: “I gave you this – you have to give me a nice bottle of red wine.” FFT is fully expecting frustrated reserve Andre Schurrle to buy his manager a Majestic store for Christmas.

SEE ALSO Mourinho pledges to invent more young talent

Facts and figures

  • The Tigers have never won away at Chelsea in any competition (L15 D5 W0).
  • Loic Remy and Didier Drogba have both scored 3 goals in 3 Premier League games against Hull.
  • Cesc Fabregas (81) is now clear in sixth place in the all-time Premier League assist ranking; 1 ahead of David Beckham (80).
    More FFT Stats Zone facts

FourFourTwo prediction

Hull’s last win over Chelsea came when Margaret Thatcher was in power. Their next one might be when she comes back from the dead. 3-0.

Chelsea vs Hull LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone