We conclude our Pre-Match Briefing for today’s game at Stamford Bridge with club historian Rick Glanvill looking at pointers to the peformances…
‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,’ the boxer Mike Tyson once observed. Antonio Conte put it differently after the win at Leicester, reminding us, ‘It is important to have another plan in your mind.’ The ring craft displayed by the Chelsea team at Leicester, rejigged in the absence of top scorer Diego Costa, will have impressed both.
With the attacking players ever-interchanging, the passing, movement, teamwork and understanding, from open play and set-pieces, was a delight to watch throughout.
Like many sides this campaign, the defending champions were patiently stretched to snapping point, and no team has scored more goals from inside the penalty area this season than Antonio Conte’s Blues.
Despite that performance, the Italian head coach may well restore Diego Costa, who returned to full training this week, to the starting 11 after his back problem. If so, Willian or Pedro are likely to make way.
Diego Costa has netted three in three against Sunday’s visitors, and he, Eden Hazard or both scored in each of our past four encounters with the Tigers since 2014.
After the problems raised by Tottenham, Chelsea looked far more like their old selves in defence too against Leicester, with central midfielder Nemanja Matic in particular back to his imperious best.
As the games are nicely spaced apart and there is an FA Cup interlude next weekend, there is no pressure on Conte to change a winning side. As always, however, he may make a few tweaks to keep players ticking over, especially the likes of Cesc Fabregas. Nathan Ake has also now had another week to acclimatise after returning from his loan at Bournemouth.
New Hull City boss Marco Silva won his first real game in charge last weekend by beating the Cherries 3-1 at the KC stadium.
The Portuguese favoured a 4-2-3-1 at last club Olympiacos, but has occasionally used a slightly more attacking 4-3-3, as was the case in Chelsea’s Champions League group-stage match against his Sporting side in 2014/15.
Silva looks keen to freshen up his squad before the transfer window closes at the end of this month. Arriving so far are striker Oumar Niasse, a loanee who was not featuring at Everton (nor selected by Senegal for the Africa Cup of Nations), Brazilian attacking midfielder Evandro, late of Porto, and Omar Elabdellaoui, a right-back who worked with him at Olympiacos.
In the other direction, the East Yorkshire club accepted an offer from West Brom for midfielder Jake Livermore with the move completed on Friday and keeper Allan McGregor has gone to Cardiff on loan.
Silva selected a 3-5-2 formation for his opening game with Hull and was intent on putting on a more positive show in front of his new audience.
The Portuguese seems keen to pack bodies into the opposition box and that meant two strikers – Snodgrass partnering Abel Hernandez – and two wide attacking midfielders in Adama Diomande, on the right in the absence of Ahmed Elmohamady (who is in Africa), and Andrew Robertson down the left.
Strong and direct, Hernandez came on as a second-half substitute during our 2-0 win at the KC Stadium in October.
The Tigers would not be purring at all, though, without Snodgrass, whose set-play work and finishing this season has meant he was directly involved in 10 of Hull’s 20 goals. Only nine of those 20 have come from open play – a Premier League low.
Silva’s central midfield comprised Sam Clucas and Ryan Mason (pictured below) either side of Tom Huddlestone. Bournemouth made the mistake of affording the ex-Spur too much time to spray the ball from midfield. He is unlikely to enjoy that luxury against the bustling Blues.
Despite the win over the Cherries, City’s centre midfield looked weaker without the power and industry of Livermore alongside Huddlestone.
The mostly ageing defensive trio of Curtis Davies, Michael Dawson and Harry Maguire have not excelled at preventing goalscoring opportunities. Davies has been present for 45 opposition league goals this season, and only Burnley and Sunderland concede more shots on goal away from home than Hull’s average of 19.4 per game. (For reference, Chelsea average 15.4 attempts on goal at the Bridge.)
The new coach also recalled goalie Eldin Jakupovic in place of David Marshall. The Switzerland international, dropped after conceding four at home to Arsenal in September, is capable of quick, accurate distribution to instigate counterattacks.
Another element to consider is that more than half the goals Hull concede on the road come in the last half-hour of games; Chelsea’s strongest period for hitting the net is the final 15 minutes.
The Tigers have conceded a remarkable 10 spot-kicks in the league, with Snodgrass responsible for two of them – the same number he has scored.
Chelsea have no injuries. John Terry is available again after his one-match suspension.
Hull’s injury list has diminished though Alex Bruce, Markus Henriksen, Will Keane, Greg Luer and Moses Odubajo all remain out.
Ahmed Elmohamady and Dieumerci Mbokani are in Gabon for the Africa Cup of Nations.
- Chelsea TV have their analysis below...