Invited to submit a half-term report on his side's performances this season, José Mourinho suggested there was room for improvement. "We are not a five and not a 10," the Chelsea manager said. "Maybe a seven or an eight. We can do better but it could be worse. I feel the team is improving."
Visiting top spot for the first time as a result of a slickly professional win at Hull confirms as much, as does the sequence of 16 points from a possible 18 gained since defeat at Stoke. This is the time of year when Manchester United traditionally find their best form in readiness for a spring surge, and if they are not going to be around to do that Chelsea look as good a bet as any to fill the void.
Admitting that his team had been outpassed and out-thought for much of the game, Steve Bruce consoled himself with the thought that Hull's season would not be defined by results against Chelsea, 2–0 defeats home and away. Chelsea's season will not be defined by results against Hull either, but with both Manchester sides to play in the coming weeks there is a sense that they are preparing themselves for a run of games that could prove decisive.
Mourinho, typically, is not talking in those terms but claiming the fruition of his plans will take a while to be fully achieved, maybe a season or two. "We are stable at the moment but the players know where we want to go, they know we will be even better next year," he said. That, presumably is when Chelsea have brought in a striker who can link with the midfield more effectively than the isolated Fernando Torres. He did grab a solo goal late but rarely saw enough of the ball to pose a consistent threat.
Mourinho's admiration for Wayne Rooney suggests he would like a more direct, dynamic attacking spearhead; at the moment he is too reliant on goals from midfield, whose ranks may soon be swelled by Benfica's Nemanja Matic in a £20m deal. Apart from Eden Hazard, whose strike looked to have settled this lukewarm encounter as soon as it hit the back of the net, Chelsea's next biggest threat came in the form of David Luiz, with two prodigious shots from free-kicks. "Our strikers may not be Premier League top scorers but they give us important things," Mourinho said. "They all work for the team."
It is debatable whether Bruce can even say that at the moment, hence his pursuit of Everton's Nikica Jelavic. When a great chance to put Hull in the lead fell to Yannick Sagbo midway through the first half, following a mistake by John Terry near his own line, the striker failed to do the important thing for his team and find the net. Or even hit the target. A rushed shot flew wastefully wide, and Hull's shoulders seemed to collectively slump from that point onwards.
They spent the rest of the game attempting to contain Chelsea without presenting any threat of their own, and were undone when Hazard elegantly carried the ball along the edge of their area and dummied to make space before shooting low past Allan McGregor.
"A wonder goal," Bruce called it. Perhaps it was not quite that but Hazard was the afternoon's outstanding performer, and might have helped put the game to bed earlier had Oscar finished more convincingly when picked out by his first-half cross from the left. Mourinho appeared to be more concerned about the inability to pick up a player of the month award than reports linking Hazard to Paris Saint-Germain. "Eden is not just a talented kid any more, he is a team player who accepts responsibility," he said. "He has fantastic ability, and some of those who are being voted player of the month are not doing half of what he is doing."
Man of the match Eden Hazard (Chelsea)