Chelsea are exactly where they were expected to be when the season began. Though they haven't been able to knock Arsenal off their table-leading perch, the Blues are within striking distance, just two points behind in third place.
Meanwhile, Hull City has been quite good this year, currently 10th on the Premier League table. While fellow promoted clubs such as Cardiff City (17th) and Crystal Palace (18th) have struggled playing a division up, the Tigers have thrived (though it should be noted that just six points separate them from Palace).
When last these teams met, Chelsea opened the Premier League season by winning at Stamford Bridge, 2-0. Which team will prevail this time around?
When: Saturday, January 11 at 7:45 a.m./12:45 p.m. GMT
Where: Kingston Communications Stadium, Hull, England
Watch: NBC Sports Network; NBC S;orts Live Extra; BT Sport 1 (U.K.)
Odds: Chelsea (55 percent), Hull City (20.5 percent) and draw (24.6 percent), according to Bloomberg Sports
In his list of Premier League grads for the various clubs to this point in the season, ESPN's Ian Darke gave Chelsea a "B+" (he gave Arsenal an "A" and Manchester City a "B+", for what it's worth). Here's his reasoning:
Showing distinct signs that Jose Mourinho is starting to shape this team the way he wants them. Powerful, talented and starting to keep clean sheets, they look dangerous. The strikers are still spluttering, but the goals from Eden Hazard, Oscar and Frank Lampard will make up the shortfall.
A season ago, Juan Mata surely would have been one of the players he mentioned. Under Mourinho, however, he continues to be a player whom the manager doesn't consider to be a great fit for the system he runs.
It's a bit maddening to watch, seeing how talented and adaptable Mata has proven to be in the past, but Mourinho generally doesn't care what the rest of us think.
Of course, other players have credited Mourinho with spurning their revival this season, John Terry among them. His comments, via Eurosport:
The manager was straight with me from day one. When Jose came in, after the first week he said, ‘For me, nothing has changed. You’re still top, you can still work and play at the top.’
He showed faith in me, and to get that arm around you is something everyone needs, even if you are one of the more experienced players in the team.
At the time the manager spoke about it, I think I needed it and, when I got that from him, it not only made me feel 10ft tall, but it made me want to work even harder for the man in charge. It makes you go to that extra level—and I would give everything for the manager.
Despite the obvious gap in talent between the two teams, Hull will like their chances in this one. Of their 23 points this season, 18 have come at home, while Chelsea have been far superior at home (28 points) than on the road (15 points).
The concern for Hull will be where the goals will come from. The Blues have been incredibly stingy this year (19 goals allowed), while Hull's leading scorer is Robbie Brady with three goals. The Tigers have spread out the scoring—13 different players have found the back of the net—but without a true goal-scoring threat, the club may find it tough to push one past Chelsea's solid defense.
Hull have been solid at home, though the fact that they've earned just three more points in their home digs than Chelsea have on the road should put into perspective how small their home-field advantage is likely to be in this one.
On paper and based upon recent performances, Chelsea are the heavy favorites. They simply have too much talent to the Tigers, and Mourinho's brand of football is once again proving to be effective, if not particularly compelling to watch.
Expect the Blues to win rather easily, 2-0.
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