Leicester City’s top-four ambitions were dealt a significant blow on Tuesday night, as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat away to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Leicester got the better of Thomas Tuchel’s side just three days ago to secure their first ever FA Cup triumph, yet Tuesday’s encounter was perhaps just as important, with both sides looking to bolster their Champions League qualification hopes.
After the disappointment of Saturday’s loss, the home side appeared keen to exact revenge in front of the returning home support, as they made a blistering start in the opening few minutes, former Foxes man Ben Chilwell going close with a low, drilled effort, while Christian Pulisic also fired narrowly over the bar.
That breathless opening continued as Timo Werner twice had a goal disallowed, the German first denied for a clear offside after a neat finish into the bottom corner, while his second effort was adjudged to have struck his arm, as he attempted to scramble the ball over the goal line.
That VAR decision unsurprisingly proved unpopular among the home support, as the Blues headed in at the break having somehow failed to take the lead in a half that also worryingly saw midfield anchor N’Golo Kante withdrawn through injury.
Wembley hero Kasper Schmeichel had continued his fine form in that first-half, yet could do little to prevent the home side going ahead almost straight after the interval, Antonio Rudiger showing his forward line how it’s done to bundle home at the back post from a delightful Chilwell corner.
Leicester’s difficult night got even tougher with 25 minutes to go, the ever-dangerous Werner drawing a foul from Wesley Fofana inside the penalty area, Blues midfielder Jorginho netting from the resulting spot-kick in his typically ultra-composed manner.
Having looked in complete control, Tuchel’s men then gifted the visitors a route back into the game, the in-form Kelechi Iheanacho turning home after Wilfried Ndidi had dispossessed Mateo Kovacic on the edge of the area.
With the game finely poised, Leicester then squandered a guilt-edged opportunity to draw level, former Newcastle United man Ayoze Perez inexplicably blazing over after an excellent pull-back from Ricardo Pereira.
The Portugal international then sparked something of a brawl late on after a late challenge on former teammate Chilwell, as tempers perhaps understandably began to flare in what was a potentially pivotal top-four counter.
In the end, it was the hosts who managed to hang on and gain a huge advantage heading into the final day, with Brendan Rodgers admitting his disappointment at the way his side conceded on the night.
“It was a very hard fought game. We’re obviously disappointed with the goals,” Rodgers told BBC Sport.
”We conceded a needless corner and didn’t pick up well enough. The penalty is very, very, very, harsh. It’s one that we will learn from.”
“My players gave everything and I’m so proud of them. We’re playing against a top side with top players. We’ll recover and get ready for the weekend now.”
“It’s over 38 games. We’ve won so many big games this season. We just missed out in a few details tonight but overall the players have given me absolutely everything. Now we can recover for a few days.”
With just three points separating the Foxes and Liverpool in fifth, albeit with the Reds still with a game in hand and a seemingly easier final day assignment at home to Crystal Palace, Rodgers’ men are now facing the prospect of squandering a seemingly nailed-on top-four spot for the second season in a row.
That being said, the former Celtic boss insisted that all is not lost heading into the final day.
”Liverpool have a couple of games. Chelsea have a tough game away at Aston Villa,” Rodgers said.
”I’ve always said we just need to concentrate on ourselves. We’re still in that top four and we’ve got one more game to go. If we win it and it’s still not enough for us we have to accept that. It’s still been a great season.”
Leicester take on Tottenham Hotspur on the final day, knowing they simply must win and hope that results elsewhere go their way.