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Leicester City vs. Chelsea, Premier League: Three keys to the match for Antonio Conte

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1. Eden Hazard’s availability

In his press conference this week Antonio Conte confirmed that Eden Hazard was ready to return for Chelsea. What capacity he’s going to play against Leicester City remains to be seen, but his return will certainly be a huge boost to Chelsea’s attack.

“Now he is available, he is in the list for the squad. He is improving a lot, he is working very strong to be ready. Now I can count on him. I have to decide the right minutes, but he is available now.”

-Antonio Conte; source: Reuters

Regardless of whether or not Hazard gets the start, getting him back at some level is a massive boost. Pairing his creativity with Alvaro Morata should be a wonderfully productive partnership. The sooner Conte has that combination at his disposal, the sooner Chelsea’s best first eleven can continue to take shape.

How Hazard’s return will impact Pedro and Willian is another fascinating wrinkle for Conte to figure out. Both of them deserve solid minutes; it’s unclear who might have the upper hand to start opposite Hazard at the moment.

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

2. Start Tiemoué Bakayoko

Tiemoué Bakayoko is nearing, if not already at full fitness and thus ready to start in midfield alongside N’Golo Kante — and not just simply as a last-gasp necessity as against Spurs. Those 90 minutes were impressive enough, considering his lack of fitness; having Bakayoko going full tilt alongside Kante is going to be a menace for opposing teams.

Once Bakayoko does become the regular starter alongside Kante — becoming the new Matić, but even better — Conte can begin to take full advantage of the flexibility granted by Danny Drinkwater and Cesc Fabregas, to either come off the bench in game-changing roles or rotate in depending on occasion and circumstance. Conte did not have this much flexibility last season and it should be exciting to see him fully utilize all the options available to him.

Leicester City v Brighton and Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

3. Stifling Riyad Mahrez

When Leicester are at their best, Riyah Mahrez is their creative catalyst. In matches where Mahrez isn’t at his best, they struggle to create effectively and are reduced to relying on the opposition’s defensive errors or the occasional counter-attack (and now Drinkwater isn’t there to help launch those either).

After a difficult transfer window it’ll be interesting to see where Mahrez’s head is at on the pitch. His manager, Craig Shakespeare has no doubts regarding his professionalism and his frame of mind, but Mahrez desired very much to a move to a top six club in the summer, and that failure could weigh heavy on his mind at the moment.

Assuming it won’t, stifling Mahrez’s creativity will be the priority for Chelsea’s defensive strategy. Leicester were unable to score in either of last season’s Premier League matches against Chelsea; Mahrez will be key if they’re to change that habit.

Marcos Alonso and N’Golo Kante are both likely to be tasked with this responsibility, and while they should be more than capable of being effective, we’ve seen Mahrez get the better of even Azpilicueta at times in the past, so in the words of Antonio Conte, we will have to pay great attention.