The defining moment at Stamford Bridge on Saturday came via Ben Chilwell’s red card midway through the second half. The Leicester defender lunged in to stop a pass reaching Victor Moses, but was a split second too late and rather than reach the ball, instead caught the Nigerian. It provided a lifeline for Chelsea, who had been flat up until Chilwell’s dismissal.
Rather than blow teams away, a 5-0 win over Stoke an exception to the rule, the Blues have been going through the motions in recent weeks and it’s hindered their form in both the Premier League and domestic competition. Chelsea were held 0-0 by Norwich in the FA Cup last weekend before playing out a drab stalemate with London rivals Arsenal in the Carabao Cup in midweek. They’re a team devoid of ideas in the final third and struggling to shake themselves out of this current rut.
Cess Fabregas had the pick of the chances for Chelsea in an opening 45 minutes dominated by Leicester. The Foxes mustered 12 shots in the first half, the most in a Premier League match by an opponent at Stamford Bridge since the 2003/04 season, as they pressed intelligently and looked to capitalise on Chelsea’s high defensive line.
On more than on occasion, Jamie Vardy broke in behind the Blues backline and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet as he twice found the wrong side of the post after smart runs beyond the defence. Having applied pressure on the Chelsea centre-backs at just the right time prior to Chilwell’s red card, the off-the-ball intelligence of the Leicester forwards presented the visitors with a number of goalscoring chances.
These, though, are worrying times for Chelsea. The Blues have now laboured to three successive 0-0 draws, which hasn’t helped in their bid to secure a top-4 finish, nor eased the pile up of fixtures, with Chelsea facing Norwich in an FA Cup third round replay in midweek before a trip to Brighton next week. Antonio Conte’s forward pair of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata have struggled in recent weeks and that has dented the club’s chances of making headway in a number of competitions.
Hazard hasn’t scored from open play in 10 matches, while Morata’s five-game goalless run is a concern. The decision to rely on Hazard as the primary attacking outlet is starting to cost the defending champions, who now no longer look like the side who’ll blow opponents away with consummate ease. It was no coincidence that Chelsea looked stronger going forward when Pedro and Willian were introduced, even if Chilwell’s sending off aided the hosts.
All the more worrying is that Leicester didn’t merely look to sit back and soak up pressure and counter attack their way to all three points as they did so routinely under Claudio Ranieri. The Foxes had 14 shots to Chelsea’s 17 and 44.6% possession. Leicester didn’t put men behind the ball and look to frustrate Chelsea, but were confident of coming away with all three points, right up until the red card.
It’s indicative of the good work Claude Puel has done since his appointment. The Frenchman was criticised for his time at Southampton, with Saints struggling for goals during his stewardship, though their failings under Mauricio Pellegrino suggests a wider issue at St. Mary’s that won’t be rectified quickly. Leicester though look far more disciplined with a tactically astute boss at the King Power Stadium helm with Puel impressing again after Leicester’s positive result at Chelsea today.