Chelsea go eight points clear at the top of the table after a hard-fought 2-0 win against Hull City.
The Blues, who won the reverse fixture also by 2-0, will hope fortunes after similar to that match in October, where the Blues then went on to win 13 matches in a row having switched to a 3-4-3.
And after seeing title rivals Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United all drop points this weekend, it was the perfect opportunity for Conte’s men to extend their lead at the summit of the Premier League.
Diego Costa broke the deadlock deep into first-half injury time to silence his critics of recent weeks, whilst Cahill wrapped up the points late into the second half as the Blues record their 13th clean sheet of the season.
Chelsea have won their last seven at home, whilst Hull have lost their last eight league games away, and whilst anyone would be forgiven for thinking this may be a walk in the park, it was anything but.
The reverse fixture sparked a Chelsea revival after bitter losses to Liverpool and Arsenal, with the Blues winning 14 of the 15 Premier League matches after that with this new-look 3-4-3 formation, and it was clear the Blues were keen to spark another good run, with Costa firing just wide after only 15 seconds.
It was the Spaniard’s 100th Chelsea appearance and, after a week of intense media speculation about his future in SW6, it was evident the Spaniard was intent to let his feet do the talking now he was back in the squad.
Hull have been on a mini-revival themselves under new coach Marco Silva, and Huddlestone nearly continued that in the eighth minute with a weaving run and fine strike from 20 yards out.
A lengthy stoppage then ensued when Mason and Cahill clashed heads — the former coming off worse — and play was stopped for some nine minutes and Mason was eventually substituted.
Maguire has proven very capable with his feet and a mazy run from him brought about a good corner kick opportunity, but nothing doing.
Marcos Alonso then looked to continue where he left off after last week’s brace against Leicester with a fizzing volley that took a wicked deflection off the Hull back-line but was eventually tipped over. The Spaniard then combined neatly with Eden Hazard but, once the Belgian got to the by-line, he could do nothing further with the ball and the action petered out.
Pedro was clumsily hacked down inside the penalty area but Swarbrick was unmoved as a Hull’s goal was under siege as Luiz also went close with a header, but the hosts opted to walk the ball into the net which saw spaces crowded out.
One man who did have the ball in the net was Costa, but he was adjudged offside. The call was marginal.
But the 28-year-old would not be denied for much longer. Moses was proving to be a handful down the right wing and he squared a ball to a totally free Diego Costa, who swept home from 10 yards in the seventh minute of nine injury time minutes added on. Hull have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 19 Premier League matches, and it was not about to stop here.
It was a sucker-punch to Hull’s game but they came out reinvigorated in the second half. Meyler stung Courtois’ hands, whilst Alonso nearly turned sinner by nearly fouling a Hull player in the box. Swarbrick was again equally unmoved.
1-0 was not a safe scoreline and Chelsea were not content to sit on the fragile scoreline. Costa had three shots in a row all smothered by the defence of Hull, but danger signs were ringing when Dawson was totally free at the back-post to drive a shot at Courtois’ goal.
Fabregas came on for an ineffective Hazard to shore matters up, but he added more than defensive solidity by popping up with his 31st league assist for Chelsea from a free-kick. The Spaniard swung in a delicious ball and Gary Cahill was totally unmarked to nod it past Jakupovic. Chelsea have scored 47 league goals this season, but this was only the fourth headed goal, a far cry from Chelsea of yesteryear with the likes of Terry, Ivanovic, Cahill and Drogba all nodding it in and epitomising the new Chelsea’s desire to play with the feet.
The Blues have kept 12 Premier League clean sheets this season, more than any other side and no team in Europe’s top five leagues has kept more, and so preserving it was undoubtedly at the top of the agenda now the points looked to be secured. In truth it could have been secured more handosmely had Costa shot more accurately, or indeed squared to a free Willian, from an excellent Fabregas through-ball, but Conte will take the victory in a weekend where most title challengers dropped points.
What are your thoughts from the game? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!
Man of the Match
DIEGO COSTA: No real Chelsea player stole the limelight today, but given recent surroundings of Costa, would the media speculation of him going to China influence his performance negatively? Even though he was not at his most sharp, the Spaniard still knew where to pop up and when, breaking the deadlock deep into first-half injury time that set his side off and a large part of Chelsea’s eight-point lead at the top of the table is down to this man. 7/10
Conte expects a tougher 2017: “This game was very difficult for us. It is not easy to play this type of game. I think our opponent played very good, good organisation and made it difficult for us. We are in the second part of the season and every game is now very tough for us and also for the other teams. You can see today the difficulty all of the teams have.”
Silva was motivational: “It was not what we wanted from the game. We came here to compete, to take points. In some moments we controlled the game. It was a good performance but I want more.”