Costa 45’+7, Cahill 81’
Hull City 0
A near-perfect weekend for Chelsea ended with them eight points clear at the top of the Premier League. Their advantage is imposing, if not yet, insurmountable, and it grew further.
But for Alexis Sanchez’s 98th-minute winner for Arsenal against Burnley, they would have been alone among the top six in tasting victory.
Yet a 15th win in 16 league games came courtesy of a distinctly imperfect performance. In theory, a home game against Hull City ranked among the easiest fixtures of the season. In practice, it was a decidedly awkward affair, with two decisions by referee Neil Swarbrick contributing to the outcome.
Chelsea were far more incisive at Leicester City last week and their struggle for fluency was summed up when Eden Hazard and Pedro were removed with 20 minutes remaining. The Belgian’s replacement, Cesc Fabregas, justified his removal and killed off Hull with a pinpoint free-kick that Gary Cahill headed in for the crucial second goal.
In other matches, Antonio Conte has been able to make substitutions with the points secured. Here, two of his key men came off because they were doing too little. He was vindicated in his decisiveness.
At least the third member of his attacking trident could not be accused of being ineffectual.
Diego Costa is back in the fold and back on the scoresheet. He missed the win at Leicester, officially because of a back injury but amid talk of a lucrative move to China and a dispute with Conte. Costa being Costa, he eschewed anonymity and was prominent from the off. He was busy and bustling, looking purposeful and powerful. When he came off, it was to choruses of his name.
He retains the support of the Stamford Bridge faithful.
His comeback almost encapsulated a goal after 12 seconds, his volley fizzing wide, a goal after he had been contentiously ruled offside and one that was permitted. Costa steered in Victor Moses’s low cross, with Hull protesting that Cahill had fouled Abel Hernandez in the build-up.
It was not their only grievance. They ought to have had a penalty, too, when Marcos Alonso tripped Hernandez in the Chelsea box. There is the sense Hull have renewed organisation and belief since Marco Silva’s appointment, but one remnant from Mike Phelan’s reign is they still feel luckless.
Already without the injured and coveted Robert Snodgrass, Hull had Ryan Mason stretchered off after a 12th-minute clash of heads with the ubiquitous Cahill before the midfielder was taken to hospital. Curtis Davies later limped off, albeit after he could have been sent off.
Hull were undaunted by both departures. The ambition of the marauding defender Harry Maguire provided one threat. He and David Meyler both tested Thibaut Courtois with well-struck long-range shots.
Yet while Chelsea showed their grit, they created little until Conte sent for Fabregas. Besides his set-piece expertise, he retains an instinctive understanding with Costa and promptly carved Hull open when the striker ought to have added a third. Eldin Jakupovic saved, but it was nevertheless a productive afternoon for Costa and a profitable couple of days for Chelsea.
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