Nobody went into this match expecting an easy time of things. Hull City have been remarkably difficult to beat at the KC Stadium so far this year -- prior to this game, only Crystal Palace and Manchester United had claimed three points there, and the latter fluked their way back from a 2-0 deficit to do so -- and although Chelsea have been on a good run our away games have a nasty habit of being uncomfortable.
But ninety minutes later, the Tigers were dispatched via Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres and the Blues had ascended to the top of the Premier League. No, it wasn't a walkover, but the 2-0 victory was nowhere near the slog we were anticipating. It was a comfortable win against a midtable side that never really had much of a chance.
Steve Bruce went into the game hoping to frustrate Chelsea for as long as possible, pitting three centre backs against Torres and man-marking David Luiz and Ramires in midfield. He also employed a ferociously high pressing line, and that led to some very sloppy play in the first half. The Blues rarely had time to find their bearings, misplacing the ball all too frequently as a result. And so the play was mostly bogged down in midfield.
The press also led to Hull's only serious chance of the game. John Terry was charged down by Jake Livermore inside our area, and promptly passed the ball straight to Yannick Sagbo. That error could and should have resulted in the opening goal, but Sagbo fluffed his lines, clanging an awful shot well wide as a bewildered Petr Cech looked on.
As the half progressed, the hosts tired and Chelsea began to find their feet. David Luiz forced an amusing stop from Allan MacGregor, the goalkeeper struggling to deal with the movement on his trademark free kick, but the goalkeeper's big moment of the half was extremely impressive. After Ashley Cole had lifted a deft chip over the defence for Hazard to play with, Oscar ended up with the ball in the middle of the box. He had time and space to pick out a shot, but was denied a goal thanks to a brilliant reaction stop from MacGregor.
The Blues had to wait for the second half to break the deadlock. By that point, Hull's pressing game had fallen off entirely. The Tigers were essentially ceding the midfield to Chelsea, and that enabled the pivot players, especially Ramires, to get into the game. And, crucially, it put Hazard in a position to hang around the business end of the pitch.
Hazard has really come into his own this year, and the team has started to rely on him to open up the opposition, much like they did with Juan Mata last year. And, like Mata, Hazard rarely disappoints. This time he received a neat flick from Cole, blew past a pair of sluggish Hull defenders, faked a shot and then, from the top of the box, fired a sniper's effort straight into the far corner.
The hosts had been playing for a draw; when faced with a deficit they didn't appear to have any idea how to get back into the match. Chelsea, on the other hand, were in fantastic spirits -- at one point they were playing so freely that we got to see Terry and Gary Cahill play a reverse-passing interchange just outside the Hull area.
But with the lead remaining at 1-0, the game was still nominally in doubt. The Blues couldn't relax, and Jose Mourinho agreed, swapping Oscar off for John Obi Mikel and switching to 4-3-3 to shore up the midfield. The formation change had the happy side effect of bringing Torres to life. He'd been peripheral all game, but came out of his shell to kill off the match three minutes from time.
It was vintage Torres. Having been fed on the break by Willian, the forward found himself one on one against Alex Bruce, twisting him this way and that before creating a yard of space and immediately snapping a shot past an off-balance MacGregor.
What could have been a nervous three minutes of injury time, then, was reduced to irrelevance. The managers shook hands on the sideline well before Mark Clattenburg brought an end to proceedings. The points were secured, first place was secured, and Petr Cech became the club's all-time leader in clean sheets.
In other words, it was a pretty good day.
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