After a devastating defeat at the Camp Nou against Barcelona on Wednesday night, Chelsea’s focus now turns towards the last remaining trophy on offer: the FA Cup.
That competition resumes for Chelsea on Sunday evening when they travel to the King Power Stadium to face Leicester City.
Sunday’s match could very prove pivotal in how Chelsea approach the remainder of the season. The FA Cup is the only attainable trophy, and while trophies are often the focus at Chelsea, the reality is that the Blues also sit in fifth, outside the Champions League places.
A second season in three without the Champions League would prove problematic, but so would only winning one trophy in that same time frame.
It leaves Antonio Conte with a bit of a decision to make as far as team selection goes. Long-term absentees Ross Barkley and David Luiz remain out, but there are questions as to what team Conte will choose on Sunday.
In recent months, Conte has made changes to his starting 11 for FA Cup matches, but with an international break looming on the horizon, there isn’t much reason for Conte to rotate his squad, even with a crucial match against Tottenham coming up on 1 April.
Conte’s selection on Sunday might also give some insight as to the Italian’s priorities. Does he priortise Champions League qualification or give the squad the chance to win silverware?
In this case, the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. The international break means that some players will get two weeks off, while those called up by their national teams will not. The idea of “resting” players shouldn’t really apply here, so if Conte does elect to make changes and not play as close to a full-strength side as he can, questions should rightly be asked of him if things go wrong.
On the other side, Conte’s opposite number Claude Puel is enjoying life at Leicester right now. When the Frenchman took over in October from Craig Shakespeare, Leicester had just 9 points from their first 10 matches of the season, and there was real fear that a relegation battle might be in order.
It didn’t turn around right away for Puel, but since the turn of the year, his Leicester team have lost just twice and are currently on a four-match unbeaten run.
Most importantly, he’s gotten Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez back to the form that they both showed during their title winning season. In the process, he has Leicester playing in a very similar manner to how they played that year, relying on a solid defensive structure and quick counter attacks.
It’s something that Chelsea need to worry about, particularly given how Vardy is capable of putting defenders under pressure with his work rate and pace. Chelsea’s defence have made some mental and organisational errors as of late, and players like Vardy will test their resolve.
Though Chelsea have enjoyed a spell of dominance against Leicester, the Foxes are perfectly capable of springing the upset on Sunday at home, and Chelsea must be keenly aware of that.
The Camp Nou on Wednesday was an intimidating atmosphere, and the King Power Stadium, in a bit of a different way, can also be intimidating when Leicester are playing well. To win, Chelsea must hold their resolve after a tough defeat where the team played well but committed too many errors. Make errors again, and Chelsea may have some hard discussions during this international break.