Top four hopefuls Chelsea hosted eight place Leicester for a top half clash between two of the Premier League’s most recent champions. The Blues needed a positive result to keep pace with Manchester United, while the Foxes wanted to push Burnley for the valuable seventh spot, with the hopes of grabbing a Europa League place. Both teams had been scoring goals for fun before this clash, so the promise a good game made this fixture an appealing prospect.
The Foxes utterly dominate the early exchanges
The initial exchanges established this as a game between two sides that seemed of equal ability, with Leicester looking comfortable even away from home. The Foxes held much of the early possession, finding Riyad Mahrez frequently down the right flank and looking to slip Jamie Vardy in behind the Blues’ back line. The visitors’ hard work almost resulted in an early opener, with Ben Chilwell finding a gap down the left wing and squaring the ball the Shinji Okazaki. The Japanese striker couldn’t quite direct his stretching shot forward, but the chance provided an early warning sign. Vardy followed the pressure up with two quick chances, hitting the side netting and missing the far post by a matter of inches with his respective efforts.
The Foxes’ lightning start continued past the 15-minute mark, with Okazaki almost connecting with a Vardy cross at the near post. But for the heroic efforts of Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea would surely have been two or three goals behind early on, and the Belgian’s fingertip save from a Wilfred Ndidi header was the pick of the bunch. The intensity of Leicester’s play was remarkable, and the Blues looked as if they could be overwhelmed at any moment as the first half progressed.
Leicester push but can’t find an opener
As the half-hour mark approached the tempo of the game showed no signs of slowing, and the visitors still played as if they were the financially superior and more talented side. Vardy and Mahrez in particular were wreaking havoc between the Chelsea defenders, and the Foxes defence was holding firm whenever the Blues were in possession. The high-pressure pressing game that Claude Puel’s side had initiated was stifling the home side’s creative players, and the likes of Eden Hazard struggled to get into the game.
For Leicester it was quite the opposite, and Mahrez was a constant thorn in the side of Marcos Alonso down the right flank. The Algerian international delivered a number of teasing crosses, but none of them could quite reach one of his teammates in the Chelsea box. To their credit the home side did start to grow into the game as half time approached, and a Fabregas shot that stung the palms of Kasper Schmeichel provided the Blues’ first real threat of the half. As the whistle went the sides headed into the break level, but the visitors really should have been two or three goals up.
Conte makes changes to stem the tide
Having been on the receiving end of quite a beating in the first half, Chelsea responded in the early minutes of the second period much more positively. The Blues began to play around the Foxes’ high press, looking to catch them on the break as their high line advanced while in possession. The bulk of the possession remained at the feet of Leicester however, and they still looked dangerous with some quick and intricate passing around the Chelsea box. There was yet another nervy moment for the home side when Mahrez went over after a clumsy challenge by Andreas Christensen, but the referee waved away the claim.
Antonio Conte attempted to shake the game up with an intriguing double substitution on the hour mark, removing Fabregas and Hazard to introduce Willian and Pedro. The decision injected some more pace into the Blues’ attack, and Willian in particular looked bright. The Brazilian drew a number of fouls in the minutes after his introduction, but Chelsea still struggled to create anything clear-cut past the hour. The possession did at least swing towards the home side following the substitution, and it was Leicester who thus looked dangerous on the break.
Chilwell sees red, but Chelsea can’t capitalise
Chelsea received a huge boost after 68 minutes when Ben Chilwell, who had already been booked, stupidly scythed down Victor Moses and was subsequently sent for an early bath by referee Mike Jones. Despite the protests of the Leicester players, Claude Puel’s side were set to play the final 20 minutes of the game with 10 men. The incident unsurprisingly allowed the Blues to take total control of the game, and Leicester’s new task seemed to be simply to defend the 0-0 draw and leave Stamford Bridge with a hard-fought point. The travelling fans were in good voice despite their side’s misfortune, and they still looked a threat on the break.
In truth the red card decision killed off what had been a hugely entertaining game, despite the score line. The final minutes became a concerted effort by Leicester to preserve the draw, and it became a hugely frustrating scenario for the Chelsea attackers. Alvaro Morata in particular cut an isolated figure up top, and was beaten in the air to every cross by the Foxes centre halves. In the end the game ended honours even, and served as a exasperating afternoon for both sides.
Chelsea never looked particularly threatening in this game, and likely could have played for another 90 minutes without scoring a goal. Neither Alvaro Morata nor Eden Hazard ever really got into the game, and this wasn’t the first time that the Blues have looked toothless offensively. While their defence stood firm in the face of a brutal Leicester assault in the first half, improvements will need to be made if Chelsea are ensure a top four spot.
Leicester really should have won this game in the first half, purely due to the sheer number of chances they created. Until the red card the Foxes looked much the better team, and were unlucky to miss out on all three points from this clash. Their attack once again looked hugely impressive, but another positive was their defensive solidity, which had been something that was lacking earlier in the season.
Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Cahill (Christensen, 33’), Rudiger, Moses, Alonso; Bakayoko, Kante, Fabregas (Willian, 58’), Hazard (Pedro, 58’); Morata
Leicester: Schmeichel; Amartey, Dragovic, Maguire, Chilwell; Mahrez, James (Iborra, 90’), Ndidi, Albrighton; Okazaki (Fuchs, 73’), Vardy (Gray, 82’)
Referee: Mike Jones
Yellow Cards: James (18’), Kante (56’), Okazaki (61’), Chilwell (63’, 68’), Morata (88’)
Red Cards: Chilwell (68’)
Chelsea: Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 7, Cahill n/a (Christensen 6), Rudiger 7, Moses 7, Alonso 6; Bakayoko 6, Kante 6, Fabregas 6 (Willian 7), Hazard 5.5 (Pedro 6); Morata 5.5
Leicester: Schmeichel 8; Amartey 7, Dragovic 7, Maguire 7, Chilwell 4.5; Mahrez 7.5, James 6 (Iborra n/a), Ndidi 7, Albrighton 6; Okazaki 7 (Fuchs n/a), Vardy 7 (Gray n/a)
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