Hazard, Diego Costa help Chelsea bounce back with win vs. Hull City

BY Jonathan Wilson • December 13, 2014


There was a sense of order restored at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea recording a 2-0 win over Hull City that was, ultimately, comfortable enough. Jose Mourinho's side dominated in the second half after a scratchy first in which in which they struggled for rhythm against a Hull City side that offered far more resistance than they had when losing here on the opening day of last season.

This always looked like a fixture for Chelsea to get back on track after suffering their first defeat of the season away at Newcastle last week. Hull, which had won only one of their last 13 league games, has a tendency of rolling over for the big sides and they started out sitting deep and hoping things didn't get too bad. Perhaps had they held out for any length of time, Chelsea, having failed to break down both Sunderland and Newcastle in recent weeks, might have become frustrated.

"We didn't play especially well, but we played well enough for everybody connected with Chelsea - supporters, players, staff - to be calm, because the game was always under control," Mourinho said after the match. "We never felt really the game in risk, but I have to agree: we had already this season many special performances and today we just had moments of good football, moments of happiness and creativity and dynamism. Just moments. Not for 90 minutes."

Hull's resistance lasted only seven minutes. Steve Bruce's side felt aggrieved that the game went on with Sone Aluko grounded in the center-circle after John Obi Mikel stood on him, but there seemed no malice in the challenge and there was no reason for the referee Chris Foy to halt Chelsea's counter. Nemanja Matic, happily restored to midfield after last week's suspension, laid the ball right to Oscar who crossed to the back post where Eden Hazard headed in. The cross was superb, hit with great whip and dip, but the marking was appalling, particularly for a side with three central defenders.

Hull did perk up a little at that, although it seemed as much because Chelsea sat off, perhaps thinking the game was done. An off-balance Aluko fired a shot over after being laid in by Nikica Jelavic, and Gary Cahill was a little fortunate to see only yellow after a clumsy foul on the forward seven minutes before the break. Yet Hull lacked that certain penetration -- have scored just twice in their last seven league matches -- and it was evident on Saturday night.

It was a strangely soporific atmosphere -- recalling Mourinho's complaints about how quiet the Stamford Bridge crowd had been during the win over Queens Park Rangers last month -- with Chelsea struggling to get a grip on possession. That, perhaps, was a reflection of the absence of Cesc Fabregas through suspension. Without him, Mourinho fielded Mikel and Matic together at the back of midfield and as a pairing they lacked guile. Since the game against Manchester United, when Marouane Fellaini effectively stifled Fabregas, the suspicion has been that if you can restrict the Spain international you restrict Chelsea and this seemed the proof of it.

Bruce's many summer signings are still really to gel. Andrew Robertson, the left wing-back, was the only one to start, with Abel Hernandez and Gaston Ramirez on the bench. Hatem Ben Arfa, brought in on loan from Newcastle to try to add some flair, has returned to Paris and is reportedly seeking a termination of his contract so he can pursue offers in France.

Chelsea was much livelier at the start of the second half, and the game took on a unexpectedly tetchy edge. Hull was furious that Cahill got away with what its players clearly thought was a dive -- the defender may argue he was simply evading a challenge -- and a couple of bad challenges followed. Alex Bruce was cautioned for a foul on Willian and then Tom Huddlestone, already booked, was show a straight red for a horrible late stamp on Filipe Luis.

Bruce had no arguments with the sending off, but was infuriated Cahill had not gone before that after going down in the box when Chelsea only held a one-goal advantage. The Hull boss, as well as his players, had expected Foy to hand the England defender a second booking, only to be incensed when the referee pointed for a goal-kick.

"I've just been asked if Cahill should have gone and the simple answer is yes, especially given the referee has already booked two people for simulation or diving," Bruce said. "Listen, if it is Oscar, Hazard or Willian, they are running at that pace that the smallest connection can bring them over. There is no question about that. But when you come to places like this, then you need them to make the right call."

A second goal was coming and it arrived after 68 minutes, Hazard capitalizing on fine work from Branislav Ivanovic to lay in Diego Costa, who swept his shot into the bottom corner for his twelfth league goal of the season in his 13th start, ending a four-game goal drought.

At that the game was effectively done, the animosity rapidly subsiding -- as was symbolized by Bruce joking on the touchline with Didier Drogba before he replaced Oscar after 75 minutes. Hull remain in the relegation zone, but for Chelsea this was an eight home win out of eight this season. There remain questions about its reliance on Fabregas to set the tempo and its first-half display was flat, but in the end this was just the sort of emphatic win it needed to re-assert its authority over the division.

There will be far tougher games ahead but, after dropping five points in its last three games, this was just about starting to win again.

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