LEICESTER CITY 1 CHELSEA 2 (after extra time)
Match Report by Paul Weston
It is still fresh in my mind since Sunday. Kasper Schmeichel went rashly for a standard Kante cross, punched thin air and substitute Pedro (one of the smallest men on the pitch) headed into goal in extra time. The noisy crowd were stunned and City’s dream of FA Cup silverware disappeared for yet another year. Frustration and disappointment became worse when we learned that, if we had beaten Chelsea, then our opponents would have been Southampton in the semi-final. Ah well…
The omens before the match were good. Chelsea had had a tough match against Barcelona and City had a clear week of warm weather training to prepare for the match. It was a freezing night at the King Power and there was a lively atmosphere in the crowd.
Puel picked the same team which started the West Brom match, with Iheanacho supporting Vardy and Iborra in midfield. Chelsea picked a strong team, although Danny Drinkwater did not even have a place on the bench. I wonder whether he feels if his move to Chelsea has been a success so far?
After a bright start City started to drop back into their recent slow passing sideways and back mode which at times seems rather pointless and frustrates the crowd. One can see what Puel is trying to achieve but has he got the right players to play his way?
Vardy, although looking sharp, was becoming isolated and we were not pressing as much as we could from the front. City were giving too much space to Moses and Alonso and, although Chelsea were also giving room to Chilwell and Simpson on the flanks, they frequently failed to deliver decent crosses. When they did there often was one attacker surrounded by three defenders.
However, City had a great chance to score late in the first half when Iheanacho broke forward with Mahrez in support. His pass was abysmal to Mahrez who had to double back and then, when surrounded by three Chelsea players, lost the ball which was played quickly to Willian. Both Chilwell and N’Didi then had the chance to either tackle or foul Willian to stop the move. Neither happened and the ball was passed to Morata who took his chance really well so, instead of winning 1-0, City were 1-0 down going into the half time interval.
City upped the pace and pressed more in the second half although I would have liked to see Okazaki on earlier rather than 30 minutes from the end. His endeavour immediately had an effect, replacing Iheanacho who had faded in the first half. Vardy had a great heading chance which he got completely wrong.
However, as time ticked by, Mahrez was fed the ball by Ndidi and he dribbled his way to the by line and crossed. Both Vardy and Iborra (twice) had shots blocked before Vardy slammed the ball in. 1-1 and game on! Diabate was also brought on later than I would have liked. His drive and creativity forward were just what we needed.
The match then went into extra time and possible penalties. It felt like the momentum was with City but I was dreading penalties- never our strong point! City were on the front foot but gaps were starting to appear at both ends. And then the Pedro goal happened from nowhere and City were 2-1 down.
Chelsea then unashamedly wasted time afterwards at every opportunity. The referee pointed to his watch to show that he was aware of the time wasting (or perhaps he was showing us that he had a nice watch!). We thought that he was adding on time for time wasting. How wrong we were! One minute only additional time was added to the boos of an incredulous crowd and City players alike. It should have been 5-6 minutes at least and cut short the end of the match as City pressed forward for an equaliser.
It was a frustrating end to a close match which was decided by two City errors and not Chelsea’s superior play. On reflection there were both positives and negatives to take from the match.
Vardy looked sharp but often was left unsupported; Iheanacho cannot fulfil the Okazaki role; Albrighton worked his socks off, often covering for Chilwell’s errors in defence; Simpson tried manfully but he does not look capable of being an attaching full back; Mahrez is better cutting in from the wing rather than feeding the ball to Simpson; N’Didi won so many tackles but cannot play a really creative pass; Iborra seemed to fade in the match after starting well; Morgan and Maguire looked strong in the middle but both were caught out by Morata.
Schmeichel has often been a saviour for City but he has had only an average season. Worryingly, his flaws at crosses, freekicks, corners, which are well known, have not been eradicated. His distribution, which used to be a strength, has deteriorated so that we frequently immediately hand possession to the opposition. The lack of pressure on Schmeichel from a high quality understudy goalkeeper must be addressed by Puel as well as both full back positions.
The next challenge for City is to regain momentum after the international break and secure 7th spot in the league and Europe could beckon again. It is important that this season does not fade away after this FA Cup disappointment.
Leicester: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan (c), Maguire, Chilwell, Ndidi, Iborra, Mahrez, Albrighton, Iheanacho, Vardy. Subs: Hamer, Fuchs, Dragović, Silva, Gray, Okazaki, Diabaté.
Chelsea: Caballero; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso; Willian, Morata, Hazard. Subs: Eduardo, Cahill, Zappacosta, Emerson, Fabregas, Pedro, Giroud.
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation