Ice-cool Diego Costa building bridges at Chelsea

Chelsea 2 Hull 0
Ice-cool Diego Costa building bridges at Chelsea

It helped that it had already been muffled by the reception the striker received following his return to the side after missing last weekend’s trip to Leicester City.

The forward’s desire to secure a lucrative move to China worth around €35m a year, together with a row with one of the Chelsea fitness coaches over the extent of his back injury, had led to his omission at the King Power stadium and fuelled the view that Costa’s time at Stamford Bridge was coming to an end.

Head coach Antonio Conte insists, though, there is no lingering rift between player and club, and Costa confirmed his continuing value to the Italian’s side by marking his 100th appearance for the club with his 52nd goal that, together with Gary Cahill’s second-half header, ensured Chelsea took full advantage of the failure of Liverpool, Tottenham and both Manchester clubs to claim three points and move eight points clear at the head of the table.

The ‘chat’ gesture made by Costa after putting his side ahead in the seventh minute of first half added time – Hull midfielder Ryan Mason received extensive treatment after a clash of heads and was later taken to hospital for treatment - may have appeared disingenuous given the player’s actions last week, but it went down well with those supporters who chanted his name at the start of the game and who later gave the Spain international a standing ovation when he was substituted late on.

How long that support will remain should Costa press for a move away next summer – Costa, remember, was heavily criticised by Chelsea fans following Jose Mourinho’s dismissal last season - remains to be seen, but for now, Conte insists the bond remains intact.

“In this situation, I told always the truth,” said the Chelsea head coach. “I am happy for him and to finish this speculation.

“He played and played very well. I am pleased for him and for fans and club. Today finished all types of speculation.

“Diego has two years of contract, before his contract expires with Chelsea. I think his contract puts to an end all the speculation. I repeat: he’s very happy to stay with us and to play with Chelsea.

“For us, now, it’s very important for us to concentrate on the present and not try and see too far into the future. That will risk not seeing the present.”

He added: “His performance was good and I am pleased for this. In the press conference before the game, a lot of people asked me about his form, his attitude, and I said I took the best decision for the team and I think I made the best decision after this performance.”

Cahill, whose 81st-minute header snuffed out Hull’s hopes of capping a fine second half display with an equaliser, echoed his manager’s view.

“He is delighted to come back,” said the centre-back.

“There has been a lot of talk, if he misses one game you are hearing about all the different stories. It gets a bit tiring and the best way to respond is to get a goal. We are delighted to have him back in the team.”

Nothing to see here, then. For now at least.

Costa had taken just nine seconds to threaten the Hull goal, sending a volley narrowly wide and had the striker not produced a crisp first-time finish from Victor Moses’ low cross, Chelsea may have faced an even more testing second half.

Hull complained that Cahill had fouled Abel Hernandez in the build-up to the goal and had a good claim for a penalty rejected shortly after the interval.

They had cause for complaint and their performance suggested new manager Marco Silva may yet steer them away from the relegation places.

On this occasion though, they fell short, killed off by Cahill’s header from Cesc Fabregas’ free-kick.

Hull’s battle to avoid relegation looks more demanding than Chelsea’s bid to reclaim the title. Conte, though, insists nothing is assured despite his side’s formidable lead at the head of the table.

“In my experience, in my career as a footballer, I win a title after being seven points behind four games from the end,” said Conte.

“I have won and I have lost four games from the end. Now we have an eight-point lead with 16 games to play. Me and my players need to know this league will be very tough until the end.

“For sure, to win this type of game and exploit the situation that the other teams dropped points was very important. I’m sure about this.”

CHELSEA (3-4-3): Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 6, Luiz 7, Cahill 7; Moses 7, Matic 6, Kante 8, Alonso 7; Pedro 6 (Willian 70, 6), Costa 8 (Batshuayi 86), Hazard 6 (Fabregas 70, 7).

Subs not used: Begovic, Zouma, Ake, Chalobah.

HULL CITY (3-4-2-1): Jakupovic 6; Maguire 9, Dawson 7, Davies 6 (Niasse 60, 5); Elabdellaoui 6, Huddlestone 7, Mason 6 (Meyler 20, 7), Robertson 6; Evandro 8, Clucas 6; Hernandez 7 (Diomande 75).

Subs not used: Marshall, Maloney, Tymon, Bowen.

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