1. Costa continues to paper over the cracks
Chelsea have struggled throughout the first two months of the campaign, with the squad yet to look like an Antonio Conte side and without a clear direction. Three times Diego Costa has scored for the Blues in the final 10 minutes of matches and given them five more points as a result.
He didn’t have to leave it quite so late on this occasion, but it did take until the hour mark before him and his fellow team-mates started to show something that resembled a decent display. In the 57th minute, Costa rounded David Marshall, although as he looked to divert it into the goal his shot was blocked by Jake Livermore who deflected it onto the post. N’Golo Kante looked destined to score with the follow-up, but somehow blasted the ball over the bar and into the stands.
Four minutes later Chelsea did open the scoring, when the striker won a 50/50 challenge against Curtis Davies and then found Willian on the left, the Brazilian moved the ball onto his right-foot before unleashing a curling shot past the helpless Marshall. Costa nearly doubled the lead just afterwards, but Hull’s No.1 was equal to it this time.
The Hull City goalkeeper could do little to stop the forward in the 67th minute, when Nemanja Matic’s blocked shot fell kindly to Costa. He finished it with the power and clinical nature that we have come to expect from the former Atletico Madrid talisman.
“It’s not important that today he scored a goal, it’s important that he worked for the team and for me this is the most important thing,” admitted Conte in the post-match press conference. Costa scored in both league games against Hull in the 2014/15 season, whilst Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 12 games with them.
Conte appears to like his temperamental South American-born strikers, as he also extracted the best from Carlos Tevez in his time in Turin. Costa now has six goals in his last seven games, as the Spanish international has returned from the summer with a clear point to prove.
2. Conte looks for solutions, but is still short on answers
“We have not got the balance and now is the moment to consider everything,” confessed Conte after the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal. The Italian coach did exactly that against Hull, as he switched formation to 3-4-2-1.
David Luiz played in the centre of a back three, with Cesar Azpilicueta to his right and Victor Moses as the wing-back. Willian and Eden Hazard took up positions between the lines, as Kante and Matic aimed to provide the security in-front of the defence. However, Chelsea looked like a team that were trialling a new system, with individual mistakes and a lack of intensity in possession.
It improved in the second 45 minutes, but only after the away team took the lead and there was an element of fortune in both of their goals. They will naturally improve once they become used to the demands of the manager, although some of these players won’t get many more opportunities to show their worth.
Hazard will be crucial to their evolving new look, with his ability to create and commit opponents in equal measure. The Belgian occupies people, which allows others the freedom and space to make their mark.
3. Clucas is the new Kante
The Hull midfielder was a winger last season in the Championship, but has been converted to a holding-midfielder this term. He completed all six of his tackles in the 4-1 loss to Arsenal a fortnight ago and has arguably been The Tigers’ best performer to date.
He came up in direct competition with Kante, who took England’s top flight by storm last season with champions Leicester City. Sam Clucas is unlikely to have the same impact as the Frenchman, although there are certain similarities in their style.
They both have an energy and tenacity about their game, whilst they are equally effective at breaking up the opposition attacks as they are in keeping possession. Kante made more passes than anyone on the pitch, whilst defenders Andrew Robertson and Livermore were the only Hull players to complete more than Clucas – with the defensive midfielder removed with 10 minutes remaining.
In the 12th minute, he controlled the ball on his chest, then expertly volleyed it across field to Adama Diomande on the left side. At the start of the second period he illustrated his defensive element, when he brilliantly tackled Costa with the forward just about to take aim.
Clucas made four tackles and recovered the ball six times, whilst he misplaced just seven of his 46 passes.
4. Chelsea still look far from comfortable in defence
Conte opted for the defensive shape which bought him so much success in Italy with Juventus and the national side. It’s early days for the formation, but he’s quickly learning that he doesn’t possess a Leonardo Bonucci or a Giorgio Chiellini.
John Terry was still missing with an ankle injury, so it left Luiz to marshal the backline in his absence. The former Paris Saint-Germain centre-back is certainly suited to a three-man defence, as it allows him to carry the ball forward with adequate cover and his passing range can be extremely effective in starting attacks.
However, he isn’t particularly good at instructing his teammates where to position themselves, with the Brazilian often found wandering around aimlessly himself. Azpilicueta didn’t look happy to be utlised as part of the three, with his distribution suffering when he tried to play forward balls.
It will be interesting to see which defenders Conte uses in the coming matches, whilst he must surely lament that Branislav Ivanovic isn’t five years younger.
“(In the second half) we were able to defend very high, which is important because the team was always very compact,” said Conte. “When we lost the ball we tried to win it back as quickly as we could, all the players worked very well. When you work together its easy.”
Get the best features, fun and footballing frolics straight to your inbox every week.
Thank you for signing up to Four Four Two. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.