Saturday finally saw a return to Premier League action after the international break and Chelsea made the trip to Leicester. It is an away fixture generally liked by traveling fans due to the choice of amenable pubs and restaurants, friendly locals and a good stadium that can create a great atmosphere.
Both sides are starting their campaigns this season with some tough fixtures and both have already experienced disappointments – Chelsea’s first half meltdown against Burnley and Leicester losing late on away at Arsenal and Manchester United. So with both clubs eager to progress up the table this was a much anticipated clash of the 2 most recent PL title winners.
Although both teams kept to their favoured formations, Chelsea’s 3-4-3 and Leicester’s 4-4-2, there were surprises in both starting line ups. Bakayoko slotted in alongside Kante in central midfield, pushing Fabregas to play a more advanced position than usual on the left. For Leicester, Okazaki was not fully fit after his international trip and was replaced by Slimani in attack.
The opening exchanges were a sign of the match as a whole. Chelsea were able to control the midfield and regularly probe forward. Leicester were unable to achieve any real threat with what little forward intent they possessed.
Leicester ‘s deadline day midfield swap disaster proved a major factor. Drinkwater was not required and kept on Chelsea’s substitute bench while Adrien Silva’s absence until January meant that James was thrown into the battle. A battle that the tackling wizardry of Kante and the immense Bakayoko won comfortably. With Alonso and Moses marauding forward down both flanks, this should have set up a goal fest for the away side. However Fabregas was a lot less effective in his attacking role and Pedro was to have one of those days where little goes right for him – he even removed his face mask at half time in the hope his fortunes would improve.
It fell to Morata, fast becoming the new source for a Chelsea goal. An early cross from deep by Azpilicueta for Morata to head in, that unlocked the resilient Leicester defence. His goal aside, this was a promising performance from the hugely talented Morata. Morgan and Maguire are 2 big, strong and effective central defenders and he took them on at their own game and gained the space that allowed him to convert for Chelsea’s lead.
Craig Shakespeare needed to change his line up and formation. The main surprise was that he waited til half time to do so. A 4-5-1 saw a bolstered Leicester central midfield, the more effective Gray attack down the right wing and Vardy enjoying a free role up front after the removal of Slimani who’s only contribution lead to Courtois making his only save of the match very comfortably. Despite all this, a masterful performance by Kante was completed when he found far too much space and slotted a tidy shot into the comer to double Chelsea’s lead.
Even with Vardy converting his penalty after a clumsy trip by Courtois this match always had a more comfortable 4-0 feel to it than the actual score line. Introductions of Willian, Hazard and Zappacosta in the second half all emphasised the strength of Chelsea’s squad. Willian came very close with a curling shot late on, Zappacosta looking dangerous going forward and Hazard had an aura of class as he toyed with the Leicester defence.
I’m sure Antonio Conte would have loved to have made more substitutions with Morata running out of energy before the final whistle and Bakayoko dropping to the floor at the end having given everything. Remember this is the start of a quick run of successive matches for The Blues which will require the whole squad to contribute.
This was an important win which lifted Chelsea to third place in the league and showed the qualities of most of their summer signings with Rudiger, Bakayoko, Morata and even Zappacosta having outstanding matches. Chelsea’s dominance over Leicester continues with 6 wins out of the last 7 visits. On this evidence, that run is likely to continue for many seasons yet.
By ‘A Blue Up North’
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