Sunday 27 August 2017 was a beautifully sunny day. Brightly costumed children were taking centre stage at the annual Notting Hill Carnival. At Headingley cricket ground, England were in the early throws of building what proved to be an obtainable lead in the second test against the West Indies.
On a more somber note, Spain’s King and Prime Minister were leading a defiant parade in remembrance of the 15 victims of the recent terror attacks and the citizens of Texas had no real knowledge of the impending devastation that tropical storm Harvey was about to cause.
We were even still in the throes of the transfer window before it finally slammed closed.
Yes, a lot has happened since but that day also witnessed Chelsea’s most recent match – a dominant 2-0 victory over a disappointing Everton side.
Thankfully this weekend sees the welcome return of PL action. The painfully long international break is at an end and Chelsea will be making the journey up the M1 to Leicester.
This is a match between the winners of the last 3 league titles and it could very well be a tough encounter all round. Craig Shakespeare has reshaped his Leicester side to a similar set up and attitude in their performance from when they won the league.
They started the season leading twice at The Emirates, before succumbing to a very late Arsenal winner. That was followed by a strong 2-0 home win over a battling Brighton side and a good away win in the League Cup. Their last match saw them play very resolutely in the face of constant onslaught from a high flying Manchester United side. With Romelu Lukaku having his penalty saved, it took 2 substitutes to finally score in a 2-0 defeat for the Foxes. These 2 losses may be early indications that Leicester are likely to continue their poor form against the top 6 from last season. However even with the inclusion of new signing Harry Maguire they have been exposed defensively by both intricate and direct attacking sides.
Chelsea managed to increase their midfield ranks on deadline day with the purchase from Leicester of the dependable Danny Drinkwater. The Foxes did try to replace him with Adrien Silva from Sporting Lisbon but official transfer paperwork arrived at FIFA 14 seconds too late and he is unable to represent his new club until January. Even more surprising was Riyad Mahrez’s deadline day antics. Wherever he had travelled to, no transfer was made and he will likely be the home sides greatest attacking threat that Chelsea will need to deal with.
The general belief is that Antonio Conte will not make any surprise team decisions and will rely on his favoured 3-4-3 formation with a now settled line up. Gary Cahill is sitting out his third and final suspended match meaning Rudiger will remain alongside Luiz and Azpicuelta in defence. The question in midfield will be whether Cesc Fabregas keeps his place instead of the more physical Bakayoko to partner Kante, whilst Alonso and Moses run up and down the flanks.
The big headline of the starting line up will be the likely return of Eden Hazard who is expected to line up with Willian and free scoring Morata. Hazard has not featured at all for Chelsea so far this season but played in both of Belgium’s international matches over the weekend. It would be unlike Conte to throw the newest signings straight into his line up, so deadline day signings Zappacosta and Drinkwater will do well to be named even on the bench.
Any variation on this likely line up would mostly depend on the fitness of all the players returning from their international duties. This match is also the first of a spell of 7 matches in 22 days, meaning it a test of Conte’s ability to manoeuvre his players in trying to keep them all fit and strong whilst fighting on 3 fronts.
Having said that, 3 points on Saturday will be a highest priority for Conte and I’m sure his team will be prepared and ready to get the job done. Their strength and talent along with their tactical flexibility and know how should lead them to another triumph at The King Power Stadium.
By ‘A Blue Up North’
Follow him on twitter: @ClitheroeBlue