Diego Costa scored on his return to the Chelsea team as they beat Hull City to move eight points clear at the top of the Premier League.The Spain striker missed last weekend’s 3-0 win over champions Leicester, citing a back injury after a disagreement with a fitness coach, amid reports of Chinese Super League interest.
But the Blues’ top scorer – cheered throughout the game by home fans – returned against struggling Hull and had an early impact, sending an effort from 20 yards fizzing just wide after only 10 seconds.
He got the opening goal when he converted Victor Moses’ low cross from eight yards out in the seventh minute of first-half injury time.
The long stoppage was a result of a head injury to Hull midfielder Ryan Mason, who went to hospital after being carried off on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask following a clash of heads with Chelsea defender Gary Cahill.
Hull played well but lacked cutting edge without the injured Robert Snodgrass and Cahill sealed the win when he headed home Cesc Fabregas’ free-kick.
Last weekend, Chelsea’s position at the top of the Premier League was looking far from secure. The Blues were five points clear after their long winning run was ended by Tottenham and Costa’s future at the club seemed in severe doubt.
Fast forward eight days and the Blues – with Costa back in the first team – are now eight points above second-placed Arsenal, the only other team in the top six to win this weekend.
Antonio Conte’s side were far from spectacular against the Tigers. In fact, Costa – with six shots – was the only Chelsea player to have more than one effort.
But a 15th win in their past 16 league games – and a 13th Premier League clean sheet of the season – takes them one game closer to a sixth English top-flight title.
The omens look good for Chelsea. No team have ever failed to win the Premier League title after picking up 55 points or more in their opening 22 games.
Hull City have shown signs of improvement after sacking manager Mike Phelan and replacing him with Marco Silva. After beating Bournemouth in his opening Premier League match, they gave Chelsea a real match for large periods.
Whether they stay up – they are two points adrift of safety – might rely on Silva’s transfer actions in the next nine days.
They left out West Ham target Robert Snodgrass, who has scored or assisted 50% of their league goals this season – and Silva said just before the game it was “impossible for him to stay”.
Despite a good performance, they lacked incision without the Scotland international. A majority of their nine shots came from distance, with centre-back Harry Maguire having four efforts.
At 1-0, they could have had a penalty when Marcos Alonso kicked the back of Abel Hernandez’s foot, but nothing was awarded.
Three of Silva’s signings, Omar Elabdellaoui, Evandro and Oumar Niasse, played but the Portuguese wants more new faces – and he needs them after selling midfielder Jake Livermore to West Brom for £10m and the loss of Mason to injury.
However, whether anyone can make up for the apparently imminent loss of Snodgrass – their only player to score more than three Premier League goals this season – remains to be seen.
Man of the match – Harry Maguire (Hull City)
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte told BBC Sport: “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.”
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 performance but I want more.”
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