Defending champions Chelsea only just managed to hold off a resurgent Leicester City to ensure that they left the King Power Stadium with all three points.
It was a hotly contested tie for the most part and got extremely interesting towards the end, but goals from Alvaro Morata and N’Golo Kante in each half proved to be enough for Antonio Conte’s men, who are now placed third on the table, only a point behind Manchester City and Manchester United.
Some questionable refereeing and some even more questionable passing prevented Chelsea from amassing bigger lead, but Conte & co. will likely be content with leaving the East Midlands with a valuable away victory. There is clearly, still work to be done for both teams.
Alvaro Morata opened the scoring with a header in the 41st minute and N’Golo Kante doubled Chelsea’s lead 5 minutes in the second half with a well placed 25-yard strike. Jamie Vardy pulled one back for the Foxes in the 61st minute after a bad tackle from Thibaut Courtois gifted the hosts a penalty.
Leicester tried to get back into the game and looked increasingly threatening as the game progressed, but Chelsea just managed to hold on to their one-goal lead. We take a look at the major talking points from the Blues’ victory yesterday at the King Power Stadium.
Kante Shows His Class
Chelsea’s man of the match on the day, the Frenchman returned to his old stomping ground and served a timely reminder as to what they were missing. However, he made sure to not celebrate his goal in front of those who once cheered his name, keeping it respectful and classy.
A constant menace in midfield, the 26-year-old seemed to be everywhere on the pitch. Besides his fair share (and a little more) of defensive contributions, he got on the scoresheet with a strike that took the entire Leicester City defence, Kasper Schmeichel and the King Power Stadium by surprise.
Antonio Conte later remarked that Kante was actually improving his game, working on his weaknesses, getting better with the ball and insisted that now he was a ‘top player’. And we can only agree. It now remains to be seen how the Frenchman fares in Europe, when the Champions League nights return to Stamford Bridge after a season-long gap.
Alvaro Morata continued his superb start to life in the Premier League. As things stand, the Spaniard has now played 4 Premier League games, scored 3 goals and provided 2 assists in that time – all with his head and he would have likely scored more, had he received better service on the day.
So far he has shown to be a more than a capable replacement for Diego Costa. He seems to be acclimatising to the physicality of the English game well enough. His aerial prowess is clear for all to see. He can play with his back to goal and comes with none of the fuss, frustration or theatrics.
These are still early days in England and Chelsea have a long season ahead of them, not to mention the Champions League which starts next week and Morata will have to improve over the course of the season. But so far, it seems as if he will eventually prove to be worth every penny of his massive £58 million transfer fee.
Vardy Shines For Leicester
The Englishman was Shakespeare’s best player on the day, constantly harassing the Chelsea defence, chasing down every ball and regularly trying to make threatening runs. His hard work was eventually rewarded as he won, and converted the penalty that halved their deficit.
It was Vardy’s third goal of the season and his 44th in the Premier League in a mere 108 appearances. It also happens to be his 68th Leicester City goal across all competitions, but unfortunately for the Foxes, it didn’t lead to the comeback that their fans would’ve hoped for.
Final Third Woes
Both sides will have some answering to do to their respective managers about their finishing and decision making in the final third, Chelsea more so than the Foxes, given that they enjoyed 60% of possession. The Blues took 16 shots at Schmeichel’s goal, out of which only 6 were on target.
So in hindsight, getting only 2 goals isn’t a very good return. Leicester City on the other hand, attempted a mere 8 shots of which only 2 were on target. Riyad Mahrez, Marc Albrighton and Islam Slimani were all ineffective for the hosts, while Cesc Fabregas and Pedro had rare rare off days for Chelsea.
Leicester were reduced to punting the ball down forward in hopes that Vardy would catch the Chelsea defence off guard and be through on goal. They did make two chances off a counter attack, but both Slimani and Vardy could make nothing of them.
Had it not been for Chelsea’s misplaced passes and some questionable refereeing, the Foxes would’ve suffered a far more heavier defeat. The hosts did pick up their game in the last 10 minutes and it seemed as if things would get messy, but Chelsea just managed to hold on.
Albrighton and Slimani were both hauled off at half time while Pedro, who was playing upfront alongside Alvaro Morata, was taken off for Willian just after the hour mark. There was some woeful crossing from Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso and even Fabregas couldn’t seem to make the most of the 9 corners the Blues won.
Chelsea’s wastefulness didn’t prove to be too costly, thanks to the defensive solidity provided by Tiemoue Bakayoko and Kante in midfield and some decent defending. This, however, can be dangerous going forward as Conte’s men look to defend their title; they will have to play with more conviction going forward.
3-5-2 Experimentation Continues
The system was first used against Tottenham this season and now this is the second time we’re seeing Conte start off with it in a Premier League game. While on the first instance it was due to a lack of personnel and the need for defensive solidity, this time there was no shortage of options in the squad.
Tiemoue Bakayoko and N’Golo Kante both started in midfield behind Cesc Fabregas, who took up a more advanced role in the three-man midfield. Pedro started upfront with Morata, but couldn’t make much of an impact, likely due to the fact that he isn’t used to playing in this formation.
It is likely that Eden Hazard will start upfront alongside the summer arrival when fully fit and act as a supporting striker. But, it remains to be seen how he will feature. The Belgian could also play where Fabregas did yesterday, in a more advanced midfield role ahead of Kante and Bakayoko.
This formation will obviously take some time to get used to, as Chelsea are sacrificing the pace of Willian and Pedro upfront in order to field a more solid, dynamic midfield and it remains to be seen whether Conte decides to stick to this formation in the bigger games and in Europe.