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Chelsea come out on top in clash of last two Premier League champions

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Leicester City 1-2 Chelsea, Premier League: Match report

Leicester City v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Since Leicester's promotion to the Premier League in 2014, they have managed to beat Chelsea just once in five tries — that 2-1 win signaling their intentions to push on for a most unlikely Premier League title while also proving to be José Mourinho’s final game in charge during his second tenure at Chelsea. There were no such grand implications for either side today, but the Blues’ 2-1 win served as further proof that opening day was just a mere blip and the Conte Revolution is progressing along just fine even amid a largely satisfactory, but outside of N’Golo Kanté, hardly amazing performance.

Just as in Chelsea’s previous away game, Conte opted for the 3-5-2 shape instead of the usual 3-4-3. But unlike that match against Tottenham when David Luiz played as a holding midfielder while Tiemoué Bakayoko and Kanté took duties as the box-to-box mids — a 1-2 midfield triangle — Conte employed Cesc Fàbregas as an advanced playmaker in front of the French duo — a 2-1 midfield triangle. Up front, Pedro started in support of Álvaro Morata with Willian, who was the last to return from international break dropping to the bench alongside new signings Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta, and the returning Eden Hazard.

The formation may have been (more) defensive in name than usual, but Chelsea set out to attack and take control from the word go. The high-line pressure took away any sort of build-up from the home side, who were reduced to lobbing long balls forward to their frontline consisting of the annoying Jamie Vardy, the useless Islam Slimani and the well below-par Riyad Mahrez. Meanwhile, Chelsea were winning every challenge, sticking perfectly to marking assignments, and establishing superiority in all phases of the game. The Blues even had better throw-ins, which have been a major weakness of the team for a decade, if not longer.

Leicester City v Chelsea - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

With Chelsea well organized and Leicester less so, Chelsea’s creative players were getting plenty of opportunities to express themselves. Cesc Fàbregas especially was finding joy between the lines, although his passes often went uncharacteristically astray — and the less said about his corners on the day, the better. But often all it takes is one great pass from Mr. Magic Hat, and it looked like one was about to materialize in the 10th minute. A pin-point lofted ball over the top, a re-run from the Cesc-to-Diego partnership of the past three years, found Morata bursting through, but Chelsea’s newest no.9 shinned his effort rather poorly.

Despite the big miss from the main man, Chelsea kept knocking on Leicester City's door. Kanté's majestic form practically gave Chelsea a one-man advantage over their opponents, while Bakayoko was showing the sort of form that led many to consider him an upgrade on Nemanja Matić. The wing-backs were also pushing forward effectively, especially on the left, compensating for the anonymous play of Pedro.

Finally in one of our many advances, just after Courtois made his one big save of the game on a Slimani chance from a counter, Morata would make up for his miss and bag his third goal of the season. It was a header of course.

If that goal looks familiar, do not adjust your sets. Just as against Everton, César Azpilicueta picked out the far post run of the center forward, who beat his marker, Wes Morgan with ease to nod home. Azpilicueta struggles to cross effectively from every position except that one spot 10-15 yards away from the corner of the penalty area. With Morata having equalled Diego Costa’s three-year tally of headers in just three starts, Azpilicueta could be in for a few more carbon copy assists this season.

The goal arrived just five minutes before the half-time whistle, but it was no less than Chelsea deserved.

Adjustments in Leicester's camp were clearly needed, and manager Craig Shakespeare duly obliged with the half-time introductions of Demarai Gray and Andy King for Slimani and Marc Albrighton, respectively. While Gray certainly posed more danger than any other Leicester player, he did not fix their defensive issues, did not improve their midfield presence, and did not really improve their tactics beyond “punt the ball to Speedy Vardy”. Were it not for Chelsea’s self-inflicted foibles later in the half, Leicester would’ve faded away with hardly a whimper.

As we often see under Conte's guidance, Chelsea started the second half with renewed spirits and it did not take long to double our advantage.

Given the freedom of the midfield, N’Golo Kanté was invited to shoot by his former teammates as well as the traveling support, perhaps more in jest than any real hope or expectations. It’s hard to know who were more surprised that the ball found the far corner anyway, squirming between Harry Maguire’s legs and past the fingertips of Kasper Schmeichel. This goal was rather familiar as well: Kanté scored this exact same for Chelsea once before, against Manchester United in the FA Cup last year.

For all intents and purposes, that should’ve been game, set, and match for the two sides, but Chelsea allowed Leicester back into the game by failing to convert several easy chances and giving away a cheap penalty at the other end. Jamie Vardy, who won the foul with his usual hustle by beating Thibaut Courtois to a poor backpass from César Azpilicueta, made no mistake from the spot. The home side were back in it and there were still 30 minutes to go.

Reacting to the goal, Conte called curtains on Pedro's disappearing by making him disappear to the bench in favor of Willian, and followed up that move with a defensive switch of Moses for Zappacosta and Fàbregas for Hazard. The latter move was a bit of a surprise (going from 3-5-2 to 3-4-3, rather than the other way around as we became used to last season), but seeing how much deeper the Foxes dropped as soon as Hazard stepped on the pitch, Conte’s thinking was pretty clear. Chelsea pushed for the third goal, and really should’ve gotten it multiple times over. Leicester meanwhile introduced another forward in Kelechi Iheanacho for midfielder Matty James, who earlier had become the latest in an ever-growing list to escape without any significant punishment for a “Gary Cahill” tackle.

With all changes exhausted by both coaches, the match entered a rather frantic phase. Zappacosta gave the ball away with his first involvement but Leicester failed to take advantage of the counter. Then Leicester gave the ball away and Zappacosta came within inches of a debut goal. Morata then had a header blocked by the outstretched arms of Harry Maguire, but referee Lee Mason must’ve swallowed his whistle at the blatantness of it all and forgot to actually make the call. Earlier, Vardy missed a header by a whisker and Alonso had a shot blocked, while Willian came close twice before the home side’s final foray forward ended in an offside call.

Chelsea lost their composure against Burnley and looked very much in danger in doing so towards the end of this game as well, but eventually the final whistle came and the scoreboard still read 2-1 to the good guys. With nine points from four matches, Chelsea are back up in the top four and just one point behind the leaders.

Chelsea could have and probably should have left the King Power Stadium with a 4-0 victory, but three points are three points and we’ve only got ourselves to blame for the lack of dominance on the scoreboard. As Conte said after the game, there are certainly a lot of things to improve on going forward.


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