Diego Costa marked his return to the starting lineup on Sunday with a goal that set-up Chelsea’s win over Hull, taking them eight points clear of Arsenal.
Diego Costa’s 15th league goal of the season broke the deadlock against Hull in the second half before a late Gary Cahill header wrapped up the win for Chelsea – one that takes them a significant eight points clear of Arsenal in second place.
All the fevered speculation over the past couple of weeks – fuelled by Chinese whispers of megadeals from Tianjin, counterclaims of back pains, and irreparably broken relations with Conte – all seem to have been put to bed. Costa was at his best on the night, marauding across the frontlines with Conte’s express blessings. And with the home fans chanting his name by the time he was taken off towards the end.
Chelsea 2-0 Hull City FT:
Chances created: 5-6
Pass accuracy: 85%-84%
Chelsea go 8 points clear. pic.twitter.com/vhnqjbx3nh
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 22, 2017
Costa had an impact on proceedings almost immediately, with a strike from distance narrowly missing in the opening seconds. His eventual goal was simple enough, coming in the seventh minute of first half added time. The move was started by Moses’ run up the right wing, before the Nigerian crossed into the box. The ball somehow found its way to Costa through the crowd, leaving a simple finish from eight yards out.
Hull hustled hard to try and resist and turn things around. But an early injury to Mason – the cause for the aforementioned long stoppage time – and the absence of Snodgrass meant they had little penetration. The 81st minute header from an unmarked Cahill off Fabregas’ free-kick sealed things. And Chelsea continue to keep a solid lead at the top of the table.
Hull struggle without creative influence of Snodgrass and the early exit of Mason after a clash of heads with Cahill
Marco Silva’s arrival has brought in some improvement in Hull City’s results. Victory over Swansea in the FA Cup and Bournemouth in the league last week brought much needed cheer. And for large swathes of Sunday’s encounter the Tigers held their own against Conte’s side.
But mere discipline and organisation are not enough to swing results in a quest to push off the drop zone. Harry McGuire’s excellent containing performance against the Blues was heartening. But Silva’s side are sorely lacking the sort of creativity and push provided by someone like Snodgrass. The West Ham target was left out by the manager, who said it is “impossible for him to stay” at the club. And Ryan Mason’s collision with Cahill left the former Spurs midfielder with a skull fracture requiring surgery, ostensibly sidelining him for a significant period.
Good to hear from @HullCity that Ryan Mason is in a 'stable condition' after undergoing surgery on a skull fracture. Pull through this, lad!
— Chelsea HQ (@Chelsea_HQ) January 22, 2017
This leaves Silva with precious little to work in attack. And even with his new acquisitions like Niasse, the Portuguese will surely be looking for more reinforcements this month.
For Chelsea, on the other hand, things look upbeat – positively rosy, even – following recent turbulence. They now have 15 wins in their last 16 games, including a 13th clean sheet. And with Costa firmly back in the fold, it’ll be even harder to dislodge Conte’s men from the summit.
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte on the game:
“This game was very difficult for us. It is not easy to play this type of game. I think our opponent played very good, had 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.”
On Costa’s positive return to the starting lineup:
“Honestly, I was very happy to see the celebration because I was celebrating the goal on the bench.
“I think [for] Diego, the most important thing is he scored. The celebration is good, but the most important thing is he scored.”
Diego Costa has scored 84 league goals since the start of 2012/13 – 81 of which have come from inside the penalty area.
True poacher. pic.twitter.com/cMi9LZgXV5
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 22, 2017
Hull City manager Marco Silva:
“It was not what we wanted from the game. We came here to compete, to take points. Chelsea are in a very good moment but we try.
“In some moments we controlled the game. Chelsea had more ball possession but our team tried and conceded in the last minute of the first half which was cheap. If we changed some things the result might have been different.
“It was a good reaction in the second half, with one or two chances to change the score. A good performance, but I want more. We made some mistakes today, you do that, but we need to continue our work to change some things at the club.”