A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s home defeat to Leicester City.
This weekend saw Chelsea host Leicester City at Stamford Bridge in a rare Saturday 3pm kick off for The Blues. The omens had looked good for Maurizio Sarri’s side, who went into this encounter unbeaten at home all season in all competitions. Indeed, they have only conceded 7 goals in 9 home Premier League matches since the Italian took charge in the summer.
If you add to that fine form Sarri’s ability to choose his currently favoured starting XI, then surely a home victory would be not much more than a mere formality. However, the footballing gods had other ideas.
Chelsea had started the season unbeaten in their first 18 matches in all competitions, but they then suffered their first defeat away to rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Then only 11 days later, The Blues lost in their next away Premier League match when newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers’s 2 goals in 4 second half minutes meant Sarri’s side left Molineux empty handed.
After this double stutter, and with a gap opening up to the top 2 teams in the league, The Blues bounced immediately back with a stunning win over champions Manchester City. Then with a run of matches over the busy Christmas period against teams most would believe Chelsea should overcome, all Blues supporters would have hoped for a set of results in which the side would establish themselves comfortably in the top 4 and even attempt to close the gap to the top 2.
3 points away at Brighton followed and then a win at home to The Foxes would have restored the confidence levels throughout the club just before Christmas and the upcoming back to back matches.
However, with twice hitting the woodwork and not being awarded an obvious penalty, this was not to be The Blues’s day. Add to that some spells of ineffective attacking possession and a number of narrow misses, and suddenly Jamie Vardy’s perfect finish was able to take all 3 points and condemn The Blues to their first home defeat of the season.
Sarri had once again opted for a front 3 of Eden Hazard flanked by Willian and Pedro, while leaving his only fully fit striker Olivier Giroud on the bench. Mateo Kovacic as usual was preferred over Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield.
Early on in the season, Chelsea appeared to start matches slowly and take a while to get into Sarri’s possession based style of playing, but recently they have started strongly. And this was the case on Saturday.
And, once again, it was Willian who was at the centre of most of their play. However, unlike his spells of penetrating forward play in the wins over Manchester City and Brighton, this was one of those matches whereby almost every decision he made and everything he did was the wrong choice.
One of the Brazilian’s greatest qualities is his constant movement and energy. He has utilised this in recent matches to help his side start on the front foot by pinning their opponents back and being involved in numerous attempts at goal. Yes, in every match he makes wrong decisions, but in a purely numbers game, his involvement is so frequent he is part of great attacking play often enough.
But against Leicester he rarely shone. He completely missed taking a touch when David Luiz sent a beautifully weighted 60 yard pass that fell to the running Willian on the edge of the box just behind a static defence. One of his early corners was flicked on by Pedro only for Luiz to narrowly miss heading into the goal at the far post.
If either of these chances had been taken, we would have been talking about another match in which Willian had contributed very well. Instead he seemed to lose confidence and go in to a shell. A corner that just harmlessly flew in to the near side netting seemed to be the last straw in his and the crowd’s frustrations with him and he did little afterwards.
This then led to there being fewer options for the home side when moving forward. This was highlighted when Pedro had the ball 10 yards outside the penalty box with no movement at all ahead of him. In the end his ball forward should have been intercepted by Harry Maguire, but instead the ball ended up with Hazard, who fizzed a shot that flew off the crossbar and went out for a throw in.
Leicester then had their first real opportunity but a stunning save by Kepa Arrizabalaga kept the match goalless at half time. It was a score line that was fairly harsh on The Blues, who had regularly created against what was a disciplined and a defensively organised Foxes side, who did not bother with their usual tactic of a high press but sat back and tried to soak up all the pressure.
However, as the second half started, the visitors started to nick the ball from their hosts in midfield a little more. The Chelsea attack was slowly becoming less influential, and then on 51 minutes James Maddison’s through ball was expertly struck home by the previously unseen Jamie Vardy.
It was the first goal that Chelsea had conceded at home in the Premier League in 4 games, ending a run of 357 minutes without an opposition goal at Stamford Bridge. It appeared to bring belief back to the ranks of this Leicester side, which had been ebbing away after only 2 wins in their previous 10 matches.
However, Chelsea still had their opportunities. A blatant push that would have been a free kick 1 yard outside the penalty box was not awarded just 1 yard inside the box by referee Lee Probert, a Rudiger flicked header from a corner narrowly sailed beyond the far post and a slick move between Cesc Fabregas, Giroud and N’Golo Kante sent Marcos Alonso through on goal. The Spaniard’s forward running efforts had finally allowed a Chelsea player to be 1 on 1 for the first time in the entire match and his shot appeared to be sliding in to the corner of the goal. However, as befitting most of the rest of the match, his shot pinged off the inside of the post, ran along just in front of the goal line and harmlessly past the other post.
Leicester City had been very organised and worked very hard, especially in the second half, but they rarely deserved all 3 points. The biggest shame for The Blues in losing this match, was this was the start of what should have been a winning spell for them. Now they remain in 4th place only on goal difference and the gap to the top is now an insurmountable 11 points.
This is 3 defeats in their last 6 Premier League matches for The Blues and now the upcoming away matches at Watford and Crystal Palace may look less comfortable. It will be up to Sarri and his players to recover from this set back and aim to regain the momentum they were playing with earlier in the season.
Remember, Chelsea won each of their matches that followed their previous 2 defeats all season. Let’s hope on Boxing Day that statistic continues.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue