In a match of scant excitement, Eden Hazard produced a moment of quality to send Chelsea on their way to a workman-like 2-0 victory over Hull City at the KC Stadium and move top of the Premier League. It was a game that exposed the reasons why Chelsea, despite temporarily at least moving a point clear of Arsenal and two of Manchester City at the summit, might struggle to claim the Premier League title this season, but also why they just might.
Chelsea looked a disjointed side, with the attacking responsibility solely on the shoulders of the front four. In fact with Fernando Torres anonymous up front until striking home the second goal three minutes before the end, it was really down to the attacking midfield three to provide all the forward threat. Despite being more than six months into the job, Jose Mourinho has still yet to fully stamp an identity on this team as he has done so noticeably with his previous sides. There was an example, too, at the KC Stadium of the greater defensive fragility that has reared its head this season, with John Terry gifting an opportunity to Yannick Sagbo that really should have seen the hosts take a half-time lead.
Yet, despite not ever hitting top gear, Chelsea eventually ran out comfortable winners. The same could be said for their season, where they have rarely taken the breath away, yet they sit right in the thick of the title race. Mourinho, as he has boasted loudly in recent weeks, knows how to grind out results better than any of his current rivals.
Despite the error from Terry, there was a greater sense of solidity about Chelsea, albeit against a Hull side that offered precious little in the final third. With that base, Chelsea were counting just one moment of class from their talented trio of Hazard, Oscar and Willian. As it has been most often this season, it was Hazard who provided it to grab his ninth goal of the season. Afterward, it was an exercise in Mourinho pragmatism. Any sting was taken out of the contest before Torres took advantage of some tiring legs late on to give the score-line a probably deserved more comfortable ring.
It was Hull that actually looked the brighter in the early going. Ahmed Elmohamady was giving Ashley Cole a tough time, with Chelsea’s veteran left-back caught out for pace on more than one occasion. Jake Livermore’s strike from 25 yards brought a goalkeeper into action for the first time midway through the opening period. But Petr Cech really should have been picking the ball out of his own net just a few minutes later.
Terry inexcusably gifted the ball straight to the opposition in Chelsea’s left-back position, with a touch off of Elmohamdy taking it right into the path of Yannick Sagbo. The Hull striker had ample time to set himself and strike from the angle, but instead showed a lack of composure, which perhaps suggests why Steve Bruce is poised to sign Everton’s Nikica Jelavic, and shot well wide of the target.
There was soon to be an equally gaping chance at the other end. Chelsea’s was of their own making as Cole and Hazard combined well down the left and the latter’s pull-back deflected right to Oscar in the middle of the box. The Brazilian struck it cleanly but it was too central, although it still required a fine reaction stop from Allan McGregor to keep it out.
McGregor was called into further, although less dramatic, action in having to repel two typically dipping free-kicks from David Luiz either side of half time. It was Hazard, though, who was continuing to look the man most likely to provide the quality required to break the deadlock of an uninspiring encounter. After having got an early sighter in the second half when dragging an effort wide, he found his range in the 56th minute.
Cole played his part, flicking David Luiz’s pass into the Belgian’s path on the edge of the box. From there Hazard cut inside and faked a shot to give him space to drill a fine low effort into the corner beyond the despairing dive of McGregor.
Oscar was denied in dramatic circumstances for a second time in the match after a last-ditch block from Curtis Davies following good work from Willian. Yet, having got the lead, Mourinho was only too happy to hold what he had -- a point illustrated by John Mikel Obi replacing Oscar. Still, with Hull toiling in vein, the visitors would manage a second goal.
Having done little of note, indeed having a pass accuracy of just over 50 percent that was far lower than any other outfield player on the pitch, Torres provided a glimpse of the quality he once produced with regularity. Admittedly Alex Bruce appeared to be trading treacle as the Spaniard breezed past him on the outside before finishing low inside the near post.