Chelsea and a 10-man Leicester City battled it out to a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
It was truly a game of two halves. Leicester dominated the first half, but Chelsea regained control once Ben Chilwell was sent off for two yellow cards in the second half.
Here are five things we learned from the draw between Chelsea and Leicester.
Leicester didn’t back down
The Foxes haven’t won at Stamford Bridge in 17 years, with last season’s fixture ending in a 3-0 win for the Blues. I wouldn’t have blamed Leicester if they would have decided to sit back and defend like their lives depended on it.
However, Claude Puel instructed his side to press and attack with fervour directly up the pitch. Riyad Mahrez, Shinji Okazaki and Jamie Vardy ran rampant through the back five and holding midfielders. Chelsea did not have an answer to this, and gave up 12 shots in the process. Fortunately for the Blues, Leicester’s finishing was reminiscent of Chelsea’s of late…abysmal.
Leicester finally cooled their jets when Chilwell was sent off after being booked twice by Mike Jones. Only then were Chelsea able to mount an attack on the away side when it was 11 v 10.
Kudos to Leicester for exposing Chelsea. The Champions of England are mere mortals now until Antonio Conte engineers a fix. Or maybe the board will actually acquire a top talent in the transfer window rather than squad depth…
3-5-2 not doing its job
Antonio Conte switched to a 3-5-2 formation to presumably add an extra body to the midfield for better control in possession and defence. Teams overran Chelsea in the middle of the pitch, causing a lot of problems late last season.
This worked to a degree when Chelsea rendered Tottenham’s attack ineffective at Wembley Stadium in August. However, it hasn’t worked in recent times, and it certainly failed against Leicester.
There is no point in adding an extra player to clog the midfield when opponents still waltz past Tiémoué Bakayoko, N’Golo Kanté, and Cesc Fàbregas. Instead, Leicester’s getting chance after chance to get shots on goal, and Chelsea have neutered their attack by leaving only Álvaro Morata and Eden Hazard up top.
Chelsea’s counter attack of the past is nonexistent anymore. The interchange between Hazard, Pedro, and Diego Costa of last season is gone when nobody in the midfield is running up to help. The crowd at Stamford Bridge groaned every time Hazard gave away the ball, but he had very little help to bring the ball forward.
Morata scoring woes continue
The last time Morata scored was against Brighton on Boxing Day in 2017, that’s five matches ago.
Granted, no Chelsea player has scored since the first leg against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup, and it has been three straight 0-0 draws. Morata still leads the club with 10 goals in the Premier League.
The last time Morata scored, everyone (myself included) were raving about the combination of César Azpilicueta crossing to the striker for the goal. Since then, they haven’t been able to connect, and he hasn’t been able finish anything else.
Pundits and commentators are starting to forget his goal-scoring ability, focusing more on his knack to go to ground after a soft touch. It’s not a good reputation to have.
I still stress that Chelsea as a team need to be fixed, and that it’s not solely on Morata. However, Diego Costa was able to create chances on his own (on a good day), and Morata will need to do the same when the rest of the team underperforms.
Conte sends a message with substitutions
When things aren’t working, something needs to be changed. Antonio Conte knows he cannot just hope for the best by playing the same cards repeatedly.
By the 58th minute, the manager had enough and reverted to his 3-4-3 formation, and surprisingly subbing out Hazard and Fàbregas. This was slightly reminiscent of Arsenal v. Chelsea last season, when Conte took out Fàbregas for Marcos Alonso to institute a three-at-the-back defence that dominates the Premier League today.
While I don’t think Hazard or Fàbregas will be benched for the future, it was a clear sign of Conte screaming “Enough is enough!” and making a drastic substitution. With the FA Cup replay against Norwich next on Wednesday, Conte might tinker with his lineup to try new things. Perhaps he will bring in new signing Ross Barkley to see what he offers.
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Since Chelsea dropped points to Leicester City, Liverpool now have a chance to overtake them at third place on Sunday if they can pull off a miracle and defeat the mighty Manchester City.
Luckily for the Reds, the game is at Anfield, a stadium where no away team enjoys playing. Even then, a Manchester City loss is unlikely to happen.
Dropped points may not mean much since the blue half of Manchester is running away with the title, but it’s a matter of pride to finish above your rivals. The race for best runner-up is very close, and Chelsea need to be fighting hard for every point. Unfortunately, fighting hard isn’t something they’ve been doing lately.
I hope this draw against Leicester serves as a wake-up call for the Blues. Their stronghold in the upper echelons of the Premier League is slowly slipping. No, they’re not disappearing from the top six, but they were top last year.
With 15 matches left in the season, Chelsea need to make a statement with their play, and prove that they’re still one of the best in England and Europe.