Recap: Leicester City moved two points clear at the top of the Premier League with a 2-1 victory at a rocking King Power Stadium to pile further misery upon a beleaguered Chelsea. For very different reasons, the two clubs have provided the two dominant storylines of the Premier League season so far, with a sense of almost disbelief at their wildly contrasting and hugely unexpected fortunes.
But Monday’s clash showed that, in both cases, their results have been no fluke. Leicester thoroughly deserved the win, handed to them by goals from their star men, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. A ponderous, lackluster Chelsea failed to match Leicester in almost every area, only discovering any momentum, and a goal back from Loic Remy, as they threw men forward in the latter stages.
From the off, Leicester were playing with more energy, organization and purpose than their opponents. Both teams lost key players to injury early on, with Danny Drinkwater departing for Leicester and Eden Hazard for Chelsea. Given the contrasting squad strengths of both clubs, Leicester might have been expected to be greater impacted. Instead, Leicester remained firmly on top.
And with 34 minutes gone, the hosts grabbed a richly deserved lead. Mahrez was the creator, supplying a brilliant in-swinging cross from the left to allow Vardy to get ahead of a static Chelsea defense and volley home his 15th goal of the season.
Just three minutes into the second half, Leicester’s lead was doubled and the King Power Stadium was in dreamland. Mahrez this time was the scorer with a goal of exceptional skill. After delightfully taking down a Marc Albrighton cross, the Algerian winger mesmerized Cesar Azpilicueta with his footwork before curling a short around the defender and into the top corner of the net. It was symbolic of Leicester’s rise this season that Mahrez, who less than two years ago was playing in the English Championship, was by some distance the best player on the pitch against the English champions.
It was illustrative too of Chelsea’s desperate predicament that with 40 minutes still remaining, Mourinho switched to three men at the back and went for all-out attack. It paid dividends to the extent that one of his substitutes, Remy, headed home a Pedro cross with 14 minutes remaining. But, in truth, Chelsea still looked a mess, lacking any real coherent strategy.
Chelsea remain just a solitary point above the relegation zone and will now take on Sunderland on Saturday in what has become a most unlikely relegation showdown. Leicester, already with 35 points under their belt, no longer have such worries and can begin dreaming about what else may lay ahead in this most remarkable of seasons.
FULLTIME! Leicester 2-1 Chelsea
Leicester go two points clear at the top of the table and Chelsea remain just a point above the relegation zone. You have to wonder if this could prove a hugely significant result for both teams. Leicester were superb for two-thirds of the contest, going 2-0 in front thanks to their star men, Vardy and Mahrez, before hanging on in the closing stages. Chelsea were insipid throughout, only applying pressure through sheer weight of forward numbers near the end.
90 mins: Five minutes of injury time for Chelsea to find an equalizer.
88 mins: Leicester make their final change, with Vardy being replaced by fellow-striker Shinji Okazaki.
83 mins: A great run from Albrighton ends with a fierce shot just wide of Courtois’ post from 20 yards. Leicester are still posing a forward threat, but it’s surprising that Ranieri has stuck with 4-4-2, despite Ulloa looking labored up front.
81 mins: Leicester make a change, and it’s the creator of the first goal and scorer of the second, Mahrez, who comes off to be replaced by the defensively minded midfield Gokhan Inler.
Here's Remy's goal:
GOAL! Leicester 2-1 Chelsea (Remy, 77)
Chelsea get right back into the contest, with their forward numbers finally paying dividends. Pedro did superbly down the left, putting in a fine cross that was met by a powerful header from Remy to notch up his first Premier League goal of the season. A major test for Leicester now, Ranieri’s men need to regain their composure.
75 mins: Chelsea are throwing plenty of men forward, but providing little indication that they have the inventiveness or plan to breakthrough Chelsea. All too often their play is reverting to hitting long balls toward Costa. Leicester’s energy and poise is certainly not what it was in the first half, however.
68 mins: Pedro has another sight of goal after a quick break, but the former Barcelona man shoots over on the stretch. Moments before that Leicester had a big penalty appeal when a header clearly struck the arm of Costa in the box. His arm didn’t appear to make a move toward the ball, but the striker will certainly have breathed a sigh of relief.
65 mins: Mourinho makes his final substitution, and it’s another attacking one. Loic Remy replaces Oscar and will join Costa up front.
63 mins: Two huge chances for Chelsea in quick succession to get back into the contest. Fabregas makes an impact, carving out a fine pass to send Costa clean through on ball, but the striker’s finish is poor and Kasper Schmeichel blocks well. From the resulting corner, Branislav Ivanovic appeared set to turn the ball in from close range at the back post, but completely miskicked it.
60 mins: Chelsea get a rare chance in the Leicester box. Oscar’s cross is headed straight to Pedro by Danny Simpson, but the Leicester full-back recovers well to prevent the substitute from getting a shot away.
56 mins: And Chelsea have gone to three at the back, something you don’t often see from Mourinho. Will that provide a route back into the game, or just further opportunity for Leicester to exploit their opponents on the break.
53 mins: Mourinho reacts to his side going 2-0 down, with a bold change. John Terry, who does appear to have an injury, goes off and it’s Cesc Fabregas who replaces him. Chelsea aare really going for it with still nearly 40 minutes remaining.
Here's that magical goal from Mahrez:
GOAL! Leicester 2-0 Chelsea (Mahrez, 48)
That is a stunning goal from Riyad Mahrez. Albrighton delivered a deep cross to his fellow winger at the back post, and Mahrez did the rest in sensational fashion. After taking the ball down delightfully, he bamboozled Azpilicueta with his footwork before curling a shot left footed into the top corner. Brilliant. And Leicester are heading back to the top of the Premier League.
46 mins: Just a few seconds in the second half, Vardy earns a yellow card for a late challenge on Costa. The Chelsea striker jumps back up to confront his Leicester counterpart and the two have to be separated. More sparks could fly here.
Second Half Kicks off! Chelsea with 45 minutes to avoid being left just a single point above the relegation zone.
Halftime: Leicester 1-0 Chelsea
The first 45 minutes have shown just why it’s currently Leicester fighting at the top of the Premier League and Chelsea struggling at the bottom. Leicester have been more confident, organized, purposeful and energetic and thoroughly deserving of their lead. The source of the only goal was no surprise, with the brilliant Mahrez setting up the deadly Vardy. Chelsea have had plenty of the ball, but created absolutely nothing of note, failing to register a single effort on target. Mourinho has huge work to do to prevent a ninth Premier League loss of the season and Leicester from going back to the summit.
45 mins: Leicester are working so hard without the ball. As well as both wingers constantly getting back to help out their full-back, strikers Vardy and Ulloa are also dropping in to form what has so far been an impenetrable wall for Chelsea. Going forward they have plenty of energy, too, and Marc Albrighton has just called Courtois into action once again with a shot from 20 yards.
41 mins: The Leicester crowd is even more fired up now, and that’s mirrored in the performance of their team. The hosts are continuing to show far more intensity than their ponderous opponents, and are deservedly in front as halftime approaches.
Here's that Vardy goal:
GOAL! Leicester 1-0 Chelsea (Vardy, 34)
Leicester are in front, and once more it’s their star duo that have provided it. Mahrez was the creator, putting in a sumptuous in-swinging cross with his left foot, and Vardy got there ahead of Zouma to volley past Courtois at his near post for the striker's 15th Premier League goal of the season.
33 mins: Chelsea are enjoying plenty of possession, but they’re still struggling to make any inroads. Moments ago, Willian’s low cross was well cut out by Morgan in the middle.
29 mins: Hazard tried to come back on but immediately walked down the tunnel hanging his head. So that’s both teams now forced into a substitution in the first 30 minutes. Pedro is on and Mourinho does not look impressed.
28 mins: Eden Hazard has gone down after receiving a bump from behind from Vardy, and Chelsea’s players are understandably miffed that a free-kick wasn’t awarded. Hazard is still down receiving treatment.
24 mins: No clear chances through the first quarter of the match, but it’s Leicester who have looked the more dangerous. Chelsea have shown little to suggest that can find a way through a very well-drilled Leicester side, while the hosts have also attacked with greater vigor.
19 mins: Mahrez again shows the danger he poses, controlling a throw-in on the edge of the box and firing a shot. Again, though, Courtois is able to take hold of it.
15 mins: After a fine start, Leicester have been dealt a big early blow. Drinkwater, who has played such a key role in Leicester’s fine start to the season, is having to go off with an apparent hamstring injury, replaced by Andy King.
14 mins: A moment of alarm in the Chelsea box, as Thibaut Courtois spilled a free-kick almost to the feet of former Chelsea defender Robert Huth. The Belgian goalkeeper breathes a sigh of relief upon claiming the ball at the second attempt.
12 mins: The Premier League’s top scorer Jamie Vardy has his first sniff of an opening, but he failed to read the through ball of Daniel Drinkwater. That’s a warning for Chelsea, though, who will hope to combat Vardy with the pace of Kurt Zouma.
11 mins: Diego Costa has already had a couple of altercations with Leicester defender Wes Morgan. Definitely a battle to watch as the match progresses.
8 mins: The greater intensity is certainly coming from Leicester in the early going. While Chelsea are methodically stroking the ball around, Leicester are attacking with pace and purpose and they’ve been far sharper into challenges.
5 mins: Chelsea earn a couple of corners, but Leicester deal with them without alarm. The crowd inside the King Power Stadium is definitely up this contest, and understandably given the chance for their team to return to the Premier League summit.
2 mins: Riyad Mahrez provides an early demonstration of why he’s one of the stars of the Premier League season so far. The Algerian winger goes on a brilliant, mazy run before firing in a low shot that Thibaut Courtois gets down well to hold. It’s been a positive start from Leicester.
KICKOFF! Chelsea get the match underway at the King Power Stadium.
2:10 p.m. EST: The two lineups are in, and both teams are unchanged. For Chelsea, it again means that Cesc Fabregas starts from the bench. Leicester opt for Leonardo Ulloa up front alongside Jamie Vardy, in preference to Shinji Okazaki.
Chelsea team tonight: Courtois; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Ramires, Matic; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Diego Costa. #CFC
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 14, 2015
— Leicester City (@LCFC) December 14, 2015
Preview: Two teams from near-opposite ends of the Premier League table will clash at the King Power Stadium on Monday when champions Chelsea visit last season’s great relegation escape artists Leicester City. That there would be such a gulf between the two sides at this stage of the season is hardly unexpected. That it would be Leicester flying high and Chelsea struggling at the wrong end of the table most certainly is.
For very different reasons, Leicester and Chelsea have created the two dominant storylines of the Premier League season so far. Leicester, expected by most to face a season-long struggle for survival, instead find themselves just a point off the summit, and with the chance to return there with a win on Monday. For manager Claudio Ranieri, who coached Chelsea for four years at the start of the century only to be dumped as the London side snapped up Jose Mourinho to end the club’s title drought, victory would surely be particularly sweet.
In the years since he left Stamford Bridge, Ranieri has failed to shake the reputation of a nearly man, leading Juventus, Roma and Monaco to second-placed finishes. Mourinho, in contrast, is seen as the sport’s ultimate winner. Not this season, though. Chelsea have endured a tumultuous campaign to date, losing eight games already in the Premier League, seven more than Leicester.
And just as there were signs that maybe Chelsea had survived the worst of the storm, the most startling defeat yet arrived last weekend, when going down 1-0 at home to newly promoted Bournemouth. Now just a single point separates then from the relegation zone.
Fresh hope that Chelsea may have turned a corner was provided in midweek when they brushed aside Porto to reach the Champions League Round of 16. Another defeat on Monday, though, and the anxiety will return in full force.
Mourinho has no new injury worries for the game, with only striker Radamel Falcao a doubt with a lack of match fitness. Leicester will have winger Nathan Dyer back available after he was forced to sit out last week’s 3-0 win over his parent club Swansea City. Richie de Laet and Matt James remain sidelined after long-term injuries.
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