This draw versus Leicester essentially summarizes our season against opposition which are in the middle or bottom of the table. Our impressive possession and dominance in all facets of the game sans finishing (the only part that truly matters) has once again been laid bare and, although points in the table are superfluous at this point, that’s also ignoring the point of the beautiful game.
Brendan Rodgers’ lineups are as predictable as next week’s weather - he is quite versatile and seeks solutions in formation and personnel as well as his tactics. That’s probably because he had such a great education with our youth from 2006-2008, but I digress. He has been the new tinkerman, playing with as many formations as he has played matches in the last month. The results have been as (in)consistent as the lineups, but, with nothing really to gain in the table from either side, watching this game was wearisome.
One can only assume that Rodgers went with three at the back and a flooded midfield in hopes of outplaying us and suffocating the possession, but he was sorely mistaken with the exception of their first and only attack of the game. Chelsea were the initial aggressors, bossing possession and pinning Leicester’s midfield back towards their defensive line, but some outright dreadful defending in the starting minutes from Marcos Alonso gave them the lead.
Ederson Kasper Schmeichel intended that pass to work out as it did, good on him. Either way, it still should not have dismantled the defense as easily as it did. The fact that our press was concentrated on our right and their break was sent quickly through our left side completely befuddled Alonso at wingback - he had started drifting wide to receive a pass after what he thought should be Antonio Rüdiger’s responsibility. It certainly was not, and as Rüdiger tried to shift in order to cover Alonso’s inept positioning and movement, a channel opens for James Maddison to attack and fire a precise shot, which he converts for quite literally their only attempt on goal.
I have been pining for that same sort of midfield presence at Chelsea (hello, Conor Gallagher), and it is precisely why Mason Mount has been so effective when he has been allowed to impact the midfield. We often have very predictable double no. 6s that will happily control and recycle the possession against weaker opposition and even stymie better oppositions’ influence through the middle of the park, but we cannot expect them to get or even contribute to our goals if Mateo Kovačić is not in the fray.
Not starting Mason Mount may therefore have been an issue, as that midfield presence was grossly lacking throughout this game and was cause enough for Reece James to essentially adopt a more central role. That’s even prior to being shifted there permanently in a 3-5-2 in the latter stages of the game, but James did put in a man of the match performance with the added responsibility.
And both his and Alonso’s inclination to shift centrally contributed to our first goal, as the central run from James would allow him to pick up notice the inwards run from Alonso. Alonso would pay his penance for his prior poor positioning to pounce on a peach of a pass from Reece James, pounding it powerfully into the back of the potato sack.
Chelsea were utterly dominant in this game and the ball was parked in the Leicester half. It highlights tremendously where we excel and where we falter. Chelsea had 32 ball recoveries in the final third of the pitch and 33 ball recoveries in the middle third - over 50 of those recoveries were in Leicester’s half. They could barely escape their half of the pitch. We were omnipresent, but far from omnipotent.
With over 72 separate attacks pressing into the Leicester half, only 17 of those ended up reaching their box. Meanwhile, Trevoh Chalobah, Thiago Silva, and Jorginho between the three of them, were responsible for 177 of our total passes, showing our preference for maintained and tidy possession, all with minimal threat. What is even more frustrating is that literally zero of Leicester’s attacks ended up in our box, and yet they ended the game with the same number of goals. Their chances are epitomised by the xT timeline, where their ‘threat’ is about as threatening as a newborn kitten.
This was against a team that has only one clean sheet this season away from home and has conceded more from set pieces (a whopping 19) than even the sides doomed to relegation already. Why our set piece threats have fallen off if a baffling question, but we are far from the top of the table on xG from set pieces anymore. It seemed like a clear opportunity, but both our deliveries and movement, let alone our finishing, from the countless chances we had were shockingly poor.
Chelsea have also, despite the fact that we have 11 draws and 6 losses on the season, not trailed while going in at the break, so levelling the score prior to half while still falling flat for a draw feels like par for the course.
All that aside, we can take note that Lukaku (and the attack) had a significantly more impactful start to the second half than the first. While he had to play virtually the whole game with his back to goal, he was much more successful at dropping deeper to contribute to hold up play or facilitate movement to either side, but the game was played entirely on the flanks in the first half and our overall central presence was lacking as a result. Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic were doing much better at picking up those central channels and half spaces in the second half, but the latter may want to forget that he had played, let alone ventured centrally.
Pulisic’s miss is the exact reason that clinical finishers are a luxury that this team does not have. It is easy to see in retrospect that he quite clearly should have either opened up his body and taken his shot on with his left foot for placement - and Pulisic is not one to shy away from a non-dominant effort - or thrashed away with his right and gone for power. Hindsight is always 100%. The movement in his and Lukaku’s runs were what was also missing throughout the game and even the changes Tuchel eventually brought on would not change that.
And so Rüdiger would not add to his impressive tally against Leicester in his Chelsea career, we now have only taken 31 points from home this season (from 17 games) while already accumulating 40 away from home, and we head into the final weekend knowing third is all but mathematically secured, while our emotions heading into next season lack that same sense of security.