On a weekend where most of Chelsea’s title rivals dropped points, the Blues took care of their own business on Sunday afternoon with a 2-0 victory over Hull City at Stamford Bridge. Goals from Diego Costa and Gary Cahill paved the way for the Blues to extend their lead at the top of the table to eight points over second-place Arsenal.
The road to winning titles is never particularly easy, and this round of fixtures has been a good example. With their other rivals perhaps showing a bit of complacency or simply playing their best, leading to dropped points, Chelsea started Sunday’s match with the added pressure of knowing that this was their chance pull away from their competition.
Luckily for the Blues, their talismanic striker returned to the lineup, having demonstrated to manager Antonio Conte in training that he was physically fit, but more importantly mentally fit after speculation linking him to a move to China graced the headlines last week.
From the start of the match, Costa seemed determined to prove his commitment to Chelsea in front of the supporters at Stamford Bridge and those around the world when just 10 seconds after the kick-off, he controlled a headed pass from Pedro on his chest and fired a half-volley just wide of Eldin Jakupovic’s post.
10 minutes in, play was stopped after a horrible collision and clash of heads between Cahill and Ryan Mason left both men on the ground needed treatment. While Cahill was able to get to his feet and return to the match, Mason required oxygen and was stretchered off and applauded off by both sets of supporters, with Chelsea supporters no doubt remembering Petr Cech’s injury back in 2006.
To Hull City’s credit, despite the injury and despite their position in the league, they showed a great fight back and caused the home side a few problems.
With Hull City in a back three, it gave licence for centre back Harry Maguire to display his ability on the ball, and he made great use of that freedom.
After going on an ambitious run past Cahill and Marcos Alonso, Maguire fired in a cross that was deflected into the side netting. From the subsequent corner, he rose to meet the ball but headed it straight into the hands of Thibault Courtois.
On Maguire’s next run forward with the ball, he struck a dipping shot from 35 yards out that forced Courtois to have to punch away towards the corner flag.
Costa, who had the first sight of goal in the match, was being frustrated by the Hull back line who did a great job of limiting Chelsea’s chances at goal.
Costa thought he had scored on 40’ when Eden Hazard finally played Costa in behind the Hull defence, but the flag went up for offside, though replays show the striker may have been level, even though the secondary runner Pedro was not.
Costa got his goal finally just before the half when Victor Moses’ low cross into the penalty area wasn’t cleared by the Hull City defenders, and Costa was there to provide the finish with a slight deflection off of goalkeeper Jakupovic.
Hull City were aggrieved with Neil Swarbrick’s decision to not award a foul in the build-up to Costa’s goal, as they believed that Cahill had fouled Abel Hernandez near the halfway line as the Uruguayan striker attempted to shield the ball.
The visitors would be more aggrieved just after the start of the second half after being denied a penalty when Alonso appeared to clip the heel of Hernandez as the striker attempted to control the ball on the edge of the area.
Despite the setbacks, Hull City continued to fight and began to control the play. Despite being just one goal up, the Blues seemed to be dropping a bit deeper, though Hull City also did a great job of clogging up the midfield passing lanes and making it very hard for the front three of Costa, Hazard, and Pedro to find space on the counter.
Hernandez had his best chance of the match just before the 70th minute when Tom Huddlestone slipped him through the defence, but his control was poor and Courtois controlled.
In the 81st minute, Cahill put an end to the contest with Chelsea’s second, as he headed home a Cesc Fabregas free kick from close range.
Costa could have had his second goal just minutes later when Fabregas slipped a ball through to Costa, but Jakupovic saved well from the one-on-one chance, before departing the match to applause and cheers from the home support.
On this evidence, there may be more cheers and applause from the Chelsea support come the end of the season.