It seems quite ludicrous that after 6 games the away trip to Hull is of major importance to the rest of our season. It is not the fact we have lost two league games on the bounce it is the manner of those defeats. Being totally outplayed and more worryingly out fought by opponents who until this season were our equals if not lessers. To go into the international break on the back of 3 defeats would be unthinkable and inevitably set up two weeks of intense speculation about all things Conte which none of us want.
In some respects being off of television and far away from home will hopefully take the spotlight away from us and let our manager, manage. He has some huge calls to make in team selection and on the evidence of last week you would say that only David Luiz and Diego Costa deserve to retain their places but more of that below.
We have had a happy habit of grinding out results against Hull. Our last visit in our championship winning season (remember that) was a rather flaky 3-2 win after a “mad” first half where we coasted to a 2-0 lead only to be pegged back to 2-2 before half time. A scuffed Loic Remy shot giving us the win.
Our hosts have had an incredible start to the season. Losing the serial walker Bruce before a ball was kicked they began their campaign with 2 unlikely wins, one of which was beating the champions although things have not gone as well for them since. Last week they took a mauling from Liverpool but like ourselves had previously won in midweek in the League Cup. They currently sit 14th but only 3 points behind us in the table. At home they have beaten Leicester lost to Manchester United, unluckily in the last minute and were thumped by Arsenal.
They will field several familiar faces including potentially four who travelled from the white side of North London. In Robert Snodgrass they have a decent midfielder who’s having a good season. At the back they have Curtis Davies who is a solid defender, something we are sorely lacking. Up front they have Abel Hernandez who is quick but will be missing Elmohamady who is a decent player and from memory always seems to raise his game against us. The local Hull paper believes that like us there may be wholesale changes to their line up , surprisingly Livermore has been playing in the back four and so well a switch back to the midfield would apparently be a surprise but the rumours are that Huddleston may be dropped.
On paper we should win but as our manager eloquently put it , we are much better on paper than we are on the field and there lies the rub, as they say. Our team will show changes and who is dropped will tell us everything. If it is same old same old with perhaps just JT coming back for Cahill/Branna there will be a collective groan. I am hoping that Azpi goes to right back and Alonso starts at left back. They may not be perfect but it will be a start in the eventual rebuilding of our back four.
I don’t think anyone doesn’t feel for Gary Cahill but individual mistakes are hard to swallow and for the third time in 3 games Gary dawdled and the opposition scored. At Leicester he was lucky at the Emirates, less so. It was a horror show and both he and Branna need a rest. In defence of them they have been told to play outside of their comfort zone and they don’t like it and by the look of it incapable of doing it. One must praise the manager for trying but how can two international defenders be so bad?
If that wasn’t bad enough one of the best young goalkeepers in the world has declined in both form and confidence. A rabbit trapped in the headlights. He cannot seem to leave his line and when he does its calamity. Why? Well playing behind this shambles is bound to affect most but he doesn’t help himself or others. Why will he not do even the most basic things to help his defence. Where is the colossus who dominated his area after banishing Cech to the bench? Perhaps the return of JT will help, we shall see. My worry is that captain leader legend gets better with every game he is not there and I hope he is fully fit and not being rushed back. I have no doubt that with JT and Luiz bringing the ball out from the back there is less chance of cock ups and the organisation is definitely better.
Midfield is difficult, Kante picks himself but who to partner him with. Personally I would try and blood Chalobah but sadly cannot see him being risked in such an important game. I would however like to see the return of the much maligned Oscar and Cesc who I think could do well in a game I suspect he will get more space. I know that Moses over Willian is current thinking. Last season’s player of the year is off his game but is Moses the answer? Personally I do not think so but he deserves his chance.
Up front I’d love to start with Costa and the Batman but this would leave Hazard on the bench. However good his impression of the invisible man has been in the last couple of games he is ultimately the best forward player at the club so it may be business as usual in the forward department.
As I have said this team selection will tell us a lot about Conte and the future. Perhaps over dramatic but the result could define our season. Hopefully we can get back some of that early season energy and bring home three points. Over to you Antonio.
Enjoy the game and win or lose it up the blues.
Clayton Beerman Follow Clayton on Twitter
Author of “Palpable Discord. A Year of drama and dissent at Chelsea” Published by Gate 17
Podder and blogger for The Chelsea Fancast