Saturday 10 December 2016

Conte's tinkering helps Chelsea stop the rot

Hull City 0 Chelsea 2

James Riach

Published 02/10/2016 | 02:30

Diego Costa: Scored Chelsea’s second goal. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Diego Costa: Scored Chelsea’s second goal. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

A first league win since August and finally some satisfaction for Antonio Conte. The Chelsea manager tinkered with his team and, although the performance was not a vintage one, his side eased to a comfortable victory here after goals from Willian and Diego Costa.

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Conte was visited by Roman Abramovich three times in the week leading up to this match, when they discussed how to revive a flagging team, and although this result may not indicate a complete turnaround, at least it was a start.

Conte dropped Branislav Ivanovic and played with a three-man defence that started shakily, but grew into the game. Hull, however, faded badly and Costa capitalised. Both his and Willian's goals were fine strikes into the top corner in the second half, to ensure Chelsea eased to a much-needed win after recent defeats by Arsenal and Liverpool.

"We played with the right intensity and pressure," said Conte. "After two defeats, it's never easy, but I am happy with the commitment of the players.

"It [a three-man defence] can be a big change on the tactical aspect, but I think more than the system it's the principles that are important. We were able to defend very high and this is very important."

In the end, Chelsea cantered home, but they were evidently learning the nuances of their new formation on the job. David Luiz was flanked by Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta at the back, and it was Thibaut Courtois who was forced into the two significant saves of the opening half. The first came in the third minute, when he acrobatically tipped over a Robert Snodgrass free-kick that deflected off the wall, Luiz having pulled down Dieumerci Mbokani on the edge of the area.

Chelsea's Nemanja Matic in action with Hull City's David Meyler. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters
Chelsea's Nemanja Matic in action with Hull City's David Meyler. Photo: Scott Heppell/Reuters

Eden Hazard and Willian played just off Costa, but while there were a few scuffed efforts here and there, fluidity was limited early on. Hazard appeared the greatest threat and, in the 40th minute, Curtis Davies had to be alert to produce a precise sliding tackle to deny the Belgian inside the area.

Chelsea restarted with renewed impetus and Hazard, in particular, lifted his game. David Marshall was forced into a fine stop after the Blues player turned brilliantly in midfield before jinking past his marker and curling a powerful shot towards the top corner.

It was the spark that Chelsea needed to begin a concerted period of pressure. Hull's only creative outlet was Snodgrass and passes soon began to go awry for Mike Phelan's side. Indeed, it was one such miscue that almost gave Chelsea the lead. Davies played the ball straight to N'Golo Kante and the former Leicester midfielder slipped in Costa, who rounded the onrushing Marshall but could only hit the post, with Jake Livermore getting the faintest of touches as he desperately slid in front of his own goal. Kante then had a glorious opportunity to score from the rebound, but he fired over.

In the 61st minute, however, Chelsea did have their lead. Hull again gave away possession in midfield and the blue shirts swarmed forward, Costa feeding Willian out left and the Brazilian cutting into the penalty area to curl the ball exquisitely into the top corner.

Chelsea's Willian celebrates scoring their first goal with team mates. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Chelsea's Willian celebrates scoring their first goal with team mates. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

Cue more pressure, as Hull's confidence crumbled. Soon afterwards it was 2-0, as Costa added his sixth goal of the season after Matic, driving forward, had a shot blocked that fell to the striker, who finished coolly.

Hull caretaker manager Phelan, who says he has not signed a deal to become permanent boss because the club keep changing the terms of the deal, said: "I was encouraged after the first half. But we did not treat the ball with the care and attention it deserved, and when you do that you get punished.

"I'm looking forward to a break. My future will take care of itself. I'm not in a position of panic. I'm not shying away from the challenge; it's hard this division and we're a newly promoted team."

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