Chelsea had a very decent festive period with a draw at title rivals Arsenal preceding a run of three victories (against Swansea, Liverpool and Southampton). Jose Mourinho’s men followed that up with a 2-0 victory at Derby County in the third round of the FA Cup, and though the Blues were hardly at their scintillating best, the Portuguese boss will be pleased with their fourth clean sheet in five games.
Hull, meanwhile, also won 2-0 in the cup, away to Middlesbrough. Prior to that Steve Bruce’s side lost 2-0 at Liverpool, but gave as good as they got for most of the game. Their last home match was a 6-0 hammering of in-trouble Fulham, and Chelsea will be wary of the side who have the sixth best home record in the top flight and the joint best home defence (having conceded just six goals on home soil, the same number as Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool).
The Blues have not been firing on all cylinders away from home this season and have already lost at Everton, Newcastle and Stoke. When Hull visited Stamford Bridge back in August the home side won 2-0, but the Tigers were not overawed by the occasion and had chances to score; had they taken them it could have been a very different story. As it was, goals from Oscar and Frank Lampard were enough to get the three points for the home side, and goals from midfield have been what have kept Chelsea in the title hunt this term since Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o have hardly been setting the world alight.
Realistically Chelsea should have enough to get the win, but former Man United defender Bruce has got his side playing well at home and they can be a real danger, even against the better sides. They beat Liverpool 3-1 at the beginning of December, and though they lost at home to Man United on Boxing Day, they were the better side for much of the game and the 3-2 scoreline in favour of the Red Devils was somewhat flattering.
Given Mourinho is well aware of the risks Hull pose, however, we expect him to set his team out to play a patient game that retains defensive solidity whilst probing for the crucial opening. With Willian coming into his own and putting in some fine performances of late, and Eden Hazard and Oscar offering guile and creativity whenever they take to the field, we fully expect the Blues to edge this one. While they might have to wait until late on in the game to get the breakthrough, we think they will force a narrow victory and keep their title challenge on track. An early goal for the visitors might instigate an open and free-scoring affair, but we think a tight, tactical battle is more likely and a 1-0 triumph for the Blues looks on the cards.
LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 1-0