Chelsea slumped to a disappointing home defeat against Leicester after a display devoid of ideas.
Leicester manager Claude Puel has to take a lot of credit for his sides 0-1 win on Saturday. The first manager to match up man for man against Chelsea, not only in formation, but Puel asked his midfield three to mirror the positioning of Kovacic, Jorginho and Kante. One of the trademarks of Sarri’s system this season, the midfielders playing wide to aid quick ball movement and link play between the full backs, midfield an wingers. This system also plays an important part defensively, allowing the midfielders to pick up the opposition full backs rather than our wingers. With Choudhury on the right and Ndidi on the left, they managed to stifle Kovacic and Kante, reducing them to bit part roles, and preventing Chelsea transitioning from back to front as cohesively as we have done in other matches this season. This tactic allied to the advanced use of their own full backs, particularly the excellent Chilwell on the left, meant that our midfield spent a greater amount of time running towards our own goal than making headway towards the oppositions.
So both teams lined up exactly the same, 4-3-3, and for the most part, completely cancelled each other out. Neither side did enough with the ball to get on top of the other, but critically, Leicester’s organisation and execution of their defensive tactics was enough to prevent Chelsea scoring, and for the most part, even creating chances. The first half was short on chances full stop. Chelsea managed to work an overload down the right only once, but Azpilicueta’s cross was too deep. Hazard was starting at centre forward, and throughout the match was looking to drop off to receive the ball, meaning we often didn’t have a target man to play into. The balls that came his way in the air left him little chance of getting to anyway. Chelsea did create more chances than Leicester in the half though. A Willian corner was flicked on at the near post by Pedro, and just evaded the touch of Luiz at the far post. At the other end Morgan headed wide from a cross back into the box following a corner. The best chance of the half fell to Hazard though. Pedro attempted to put him through down the inside right channel, and succeeded only after Maguire botched his interception. Hazard took a touch and then unleashed a powerful shot, which clattered off the bar. One of the few occasions were Chelsea strung some quick passes together to create a chance led to a Willian effort from the left side of the box after Kovacic played him in, but he shot straight at Schmeichel. Leicester nearly went in leading at the break after the ball broke to Ndidi on the edge of the box, and he struck an excellent first time shot which was superbly turned over by Kepa.
Into the second half, and Chelsea looked to be struggling for ideas in the first ten minutes, being forced sideways and rarely being able to play into the front line. Leicester forced the opener after stretching the midfield, all part of Puel’s plan. Pereira went on an overlapping run into the Chelsea half as Chilwell had been doing, Kovacic went with him, which left space for Maddison to run into the middle and receive the ball, trailed by Kante. Luiz had inexplicably pulled out wide to cover Albrighton as Alonso was up the pitch, this left Rudiger exposed. When the German attempted to tackle Maddison, he slipped the ball to Vardy in the hole where Luiz should have been, and he clinically despatched.
Now they had a lead they were happy to continue as they had been, and life was hard for Chelsea now, and chances were few and far between. Although Leicester sat slightly deeper as Chelsea increased their possession percentage, the foxes looked dangerous on the break. Hazard did get in behind on one occasion, but Schmeichel saved smartly at his near post. Luiz headed onto the roof of the net from the resulting corner. Leicester showed they were still a threat at the other end, and nearly killed the match off after a low Maddison cross was not held by Kepa, and Vardy’s back heel towards goal was blocked by Azpilicueta.
Into the last ten minutes and this was getting away from Chelsea. Increasingly playing sideways and lacking a cutting edge. Giroud had come on up front as Hazard moved wide, and Fabregas replaced Jorginho in the hope of picking the lock. It was again Leicester threatening though. A free kick floated into the box was headed clear to the edge of the area where Albrighton fired it back through the crowd. Kepa dived low to his right to turn it away.
Chelsea nearly levelled in the 89th minute from a corner. Maguire lost Rudiger in the middle of the penalty area, and he met the ball as Schmeichel attempted to punch clear. The ball evaded the keeper, but also the far post. The last possible salvo came in stoppage time as Alonso joined the attack and was slipped in inside the area down the left. His shot struck the inside of the post and rolled across the goalmouth. It wasn’t to be our day. Despite striking the upright twice in the match, there was to be few complaints at the result, Leicester had worked hard and deserved the plaudits. Chelsea must assess plan B options should another side have the match of us in the future.
Chelsea (4-3-3) 0
Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta©, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso; Kovacic,(Loftus-Cheek 61) Jorginho,(Fabregas 75) Kante; Pedro, Hazard, Willian,(Giroud 61)
Leicester City (4-3-3) 1 (Vardy 51)
Schmeichel; Pereira, Morgan, Maguire, Chilwell; Choudhury, Mendy, Ndidi; Albrighton, Vardy, (Iheanacho 84), Maddison, (Gray 82).