Chelsea fully refreshed ahead of trip to Hull

Posted by Phil Lythell

With the Christmas period producing a football match at every turn, this last week of relative tranquility will have come as a welcome reward for the Chelsea players. The Blues enjoyed a fruitful festive season with ten points taken in the Premier League and progress made in the FA Cup. Given their traditional travails at this time of year, a few days to take stock and recharge the batteries without the inconvenience of playing a competitive fixture has been fully earned.

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Of course, the only reason that Chelsea have had the luxury of an empty week was due to their defeat at Sunderland in the quarterfinals of the Capital One Cup, a result that certainly hurt at the time, even if it left few genuinely heartbroken. Had they managed to hold on to their lead in the final few minutes of normal time at the Stadium of Light, then they would have faced a prestige semi-final against Manchester United this week, a match that would have demanded serious attention and would have had the knock-on effect of selecting a weakened team at Derby County last weekend and a drained eleven for Saturday's match with Hull.

Looking back momentarily to last season, Chelsea's midweek excursions often came at the detriment of weekend results and harder work than necessary was made of qualifying for the Champions League. Clearly, winning the Capital One Cup would have been extremely enjoyable, though three points at the KC Stadium with a much greater prize in their sights will certainly help to offset the disappointment.

As it is, all the players in Jose Mourinho's squad -- bar the mid to long-term absentees -- should be fully refreshed for their trip to Humberside and will have few excuses for any drop in the quality that they have shown over the past month. That is not to say that Hull can be expected to roll over and let their more illustrious opponents have their wicked way with them, however. Steve Bruce's side currently sit in the top half of the table -- albeit only on goal difference in an extremely congested division -- and have shown themselves to be testing opposition on their own patch.

Liverpool conceded three in a comprehensive defeat while Fulham were put to the sword in their final match of 2013 when they were hit for six by the Tigers. Manchester United almost came a cropper as well having fallen 2-0 behind early on only to recover to win a five-goal thriller. They have, however, succumbed to a 1-0 home defeat to Crystal Palace, so their ground is perhaps not quite a fortress where visitors fear to tread.

Stocked with diligent workers and familiar, seasoned campaigners as opposed to a flock of recognisable stars, Hull will be reliant on their one player of genuine quality. Tom Huddlestone's summer arrival from Tottenham was a coup for the club -- even if the move to a newly promoted side was a kick in the teeth for a player with England ambitions -- and he has more than lived up to his reported five million pound transfer fee with a series of influential performances. His ability to craft from deep positions is as well-known as his lack of dynamism. Mourinho will no doubt be detailing one of his attacking midfielders, most probably Oscar, to keep tight to the 27-year-old to nullify his impact. Shut down Huddlestone and Hull's threat is heavily reduced.

Though with all due respect to the midfielder, Hull should have a lot more to worry about than their opponents. Oscar, Willian and Eden Hazard are enjoying a rich vein of form and can be expected to terrify their opposite numbers once again. Hull went on the front foot against Manchester United on Boxing Day in a bid to meet fire with fire. It might have had initial success, but then United -- with the exception of Wayne Rooney -- do not currently have anyone of the calibre of Chelsea's trio of attacking midfielders to exploit any gaps left through errant forays forward.

Yet again, the result will probably be dependent on whether the Blues take advantage of the chances that they create. Conjuring up opportunities has not been a problem, whoever the opponents (if the horror-show of the away match with FC Basel can be banished from the memory), and more are bound to arise at the KC Stadium.

The difference between three points, one or none will be decided by ruthlessness. If Fernando Torres is wearing his shooting boots and Hazard learns to be a bit more selfish, then Chelsea should be sitting on top of the Premier League by the time the final whistle blows on Saturday.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell


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