Hull City-Chelsea Preview
Maybe Chelsea aren't champions-elect after all.
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea (11-3-1) looked to be running away with the league just a couple of weeks ago, but have dropped points in two of their last three games to allow the chasing pack a chance to close the gap.
Last Saturday saw the league leaders slump to defeat against Newcastle to finally end their unbeaten run in league play after 14 games without a loss. However, the Blues bounced back with a 3-1 win over Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League in midweek, joining Arsenal and Manchester City in the last 16.
"I'm happy City and Arsenal went through," Mourinho said after the game. "I work in England. I want the prestige of English football and I hope they do well. It's good for us that our direct opponents in the Premier League are involved in European competitions. Manchester United are not. They have the same advantage that Liverpool had last season in terms of the Premier League, a big advantage.
"I don't think any of the big teams is out of the Champions League now. Maybe Liverpool. But all the teams that want to win the competition, they're all in the competition. What can we do? I don't know. Last season, for sure, we were not one of the top four and we played Champions League semi-finals. Let's see what we can do this season, step by step."
Saturday sees Chelsea host Steve Bruce's struggling Hull City (2-7-6). The Tigers are without a win in eight and dipped into the relegation zone with last weekend's 0-0 home draw against West Bromwich Albion.
Gelling the existing squad with a host of high-profile summer signings has proved tough for Bruce, with a host of injury problems also not helping the City manager's attempts to add some creativity to a predictable front line.
"It's an area that we tried to improve," Bruce said. "We brought in Ramirez, he picked up a groin injury and then got suspended so we haven't really seen him yet. Robert Snodgrass injured his knee in the first game of the season. Hatem Ben Arfa - it hasn't worked just yet. Jelavic took sick at the end of last week and so was on the bench at the weekend.
"The people that we brought in to give us that extra dimension - it hasn't quite happened yet but we have to give it time. It has been a frustrating thing for me because I haven't been able to play what I think is my best team, but that is the way it is and you're going to get injuries and suspensions. The effort and the endeavour from the team has been evident and it's a case of finding that right blend."
The injury crisis at Hull does finally seem to be easing, with only Mohamed Diame and Snodgrass missing for the clash with Chelsea. The Blues have no reported first-team injuries, although Diego Costa continues to struggle with ongoing fitness issues.
Chelsea did the double over Hull last season, winning both games 2-0. The Blues have never lost in six Premier League meetings with the Tigers, out-scoring their opponents 10-2 in those games and keeping four clean sheets.