Three Points: Blues lack Fabregas' spark while Hull look doomed
LONDON -- Three observations from Chelsea's drab 2-0 victory over Hull City. Cesc Fabregas' importance to the title-chasers was underlined by Chelsea's lethargy in his absence, while Hull City manager Steve Bruce's woes continued ...
1. Blues still seeking to hit top form again
It was back to winning ways for Chelsea, but not quite back to full form. This was a much less dazzling performance that brought back memories of some of the dour games from last season. Of course, it didn't help there was barely an opposition to speak of. Hull City offered nothing more than a procession and that was emphasized as early as the seventh minute. Oscar whipped over a brilliant cross for one of the assists of the season and Eden Hazard easily headed it in.
The only fight that Hull showed was when Tom Huddlestone got sent off for a poor challenge on Filipe Luis. He raised his studs and received the red, confirming what everyone already knew: Chelsea would win easily. Diego Costa made sure of that with a 68th-minute strike, in which he beat Allan McGregor from an angle. By then it was easy, and there were moments when Bruce and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho were idly chatting on the touchline.
Bruce should not feel secure. His side are second from the bottom and from what seemed a comfortable situation just a few weeks ago, they are now looking in real trouble. Chelsea, meanwhile, are still looking down on everyone else. This game was never going to change that.
2. Fabregas' absence hinders Mourinho
This was probably the side's most laboured and uninspiring performance of the season, far more so than last week's defeat at Newcastle United. It was plodding and shows just how important Fabregas has become for Chelsea. John Obi Mikel certainly isn't a capable replacement.
The fact the Nigerian was in the centre rather than Fabregas meant it was a performance and win very reminiscent of last season, in which Chelsea did just about enough, but lacked energy and spark.
It's also a slight surprise that Mourinho didn't put Oscar farther back instead. As good as Chelsea's squad is, it is something the manager should look into. They lack an extra midfielder who is more like Fabregas, or who would serve as a complement to either the Spaniard or Nemanja Matic. There were still, of course, moments of individual quality.
Oscar's delivery for Hazard's opening goal may have looked like a fairly standard cross, but it was anything but. It was a gorgeously perfect delivery, the type of whipped ball just begging to be headed, which Hazard did with some style. The Belgian then provided the pass for Costa's goal, which marked his first in five games and the end of a mini drought.
It was a slightly scuffed but still precise finish, the type former Manchester United striker Andy Cole used to specialise in. By that point and up against 10 men, Chelsea looked lively. The issue was that there was no one to link it all together. Fabregas may well be this team's most important player, at least in terms of their style.
3. Real concern over Hull's plight
Hull's woes are surprising when you consider how much money they spent in the summer, how well-structured their team is and how solid they look. There were even elements of it in this game.
Having gone behind, the visitors were probably the better team for the majority of the first half and forced more chances than Chelsea while taking advantage of the hosts' lack of drive in midfield. They never look like doing much with those chances, though, something evident in the fact they've now only scored two goals in eight games.
Sone Aluko offered plenty of pace but absolutely no precision, while Nikica Jelavic is on one of those extended droughts he tends to suffer from. Ultimately, Hull just turned up to be rolled over. Bruce arguably said it and showed it all with his comment to Didier Drogba as the striker warmed up.
"You're not coming on, are you?" the Hull manager joked.
It brought a smile, but there's not too much happy about at Hull right now. They should be a solid midtable side but instead, they look in real trouble.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.