Chelsea 2 v 1 LCFC
Report by Stuart Dawkins
I suspect many Leicester fans had a heart-versus-head debate leading up to this momentous footballing week for our Club: which would you prefer, beating Chelsea to win the FA Cup (‘heart’) or beating Chelsea to secure Champions League football for next season (‘head’)? Prior to Saturday, I could have made the argument either way. Standing in the crowd at Wembley, by 20-seconds after the full-time whistle it was clear to me that the ‘heart’ answer was the correct one.
The re-match on Tuesday evening still mattered though; a lot. The two games also shared another important fact: live fans, even though – completely understandably – these were solely home fans at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea made two changes to their starting line-up from Wembley, plus the expected switch back to first-pick goalkeeper, Mendy. Rodgers replaced the injured Evans with Albrighton and gave Maddison a start in place of Iheanacho. City were in their now-iconic maroon kit (who would have thought anyone would ever type that sentence?)
As at Wembley, Chelsea started the brighter and the quicker. Chilwell had the first decent attempt in the fourth minute, Kanté had a shot parried by Schmeichel five minutes later, and for the first part of the match the ball was rarely out of the Leicester half, with Chelsea somehow looking less toothless than in the first half at Wembley, albeit still not scoring any goals.
Leicester eased back to their more usual selves from around the fifteenth minute, getting a bit more possession and defending slightly less deeply. Nonetheless all the decent chances were Chelsea’s. Söyüncü slipped (for the third or fourth time) and Werner was released to ‘score’ – but he was clearly offside, as he so often tends to be. Mount had a snapshot tipped over the bar by Schmeichel, with Thiago Silva heading a decent chance over the bar from the resulting corner.
The pressure was all from the side in blue. After half-an-hour, injury forced Kanté to be replaced by Kovacic. Kanté had been dynamic in both matches, and this change ought to have been in Leicester’s favour, but it really did not make much difference to the flow of the game.
Jorginho played a great through-ball to Werner, but Castagne blocked the shot well. Then VAR rode to City’s rescue once more: a left-wing corner arrived with Werner on the goal line, and he bundled the ball into the net. This was VAR at its best. In the melee of players, it is understandable why the on-pitch officials were not certain which part of Werner’s anatomy hit the ball, but VAR unambiguously showed it was his arm, and the ‘goal’ was ruled out.
Mount, who was the outstanding player on the pitch, had another decent shot saved by Schmeichel, and the half ended with the home team having taken eleven shots to City’s one (and that one was off target). That statistic was a fair reflection of the match: Leicester were lucky still to be in it.
Just a couple of minutes into the second half, the normally dependable Thomas got into a tangle and conceded an unnecessary corner. Leicester’s nemesis – Rüdiger – then showed his wasteful German compatriot – Werner – the correct way to bundle the ball into the goal from a corner. The slightly deflected cross hit Rüdiger’s knee before entering the goal and it was one-nil to Chelsea. Astonishingly, it was Rüdiger’s first goal since February 2020 … when he scored two against Leicester at the King Power Stadium.
After an hour, Iheanacho came on for Maddison. Maddison is a classy player, but he has done nothing of any great note since coming back from injury, and today was no exception. City began to look a bit more of a threat, but not before another unfortunate mistake by one of City’s youthful stars. This time it was Fofana who clumsily challenged Werner as the latter was running away from goal and no challenge was necessary. It looked the faintest of contacts, if at all, but that contact was clearly in the penalty area and this time VAR came to Chelsea’s aid – changing the free-kick awarded initially by Mike Dean into a spot-kick which was coolly converted by Jorginho to make it two-nil.
Rodgers replaced Albrighton with Pereira. City began to play better, and Iheanacho’s presence made a visible difference. Vardy finally connected with a cross, but his attempt was easily blocked. Perez hit a 20-yard shot that was easily saved (City’s first attempt on target … in the 71st minute). Five minutes later, Ndidi disposed Kovacic, played a through ball to Iheanacho who finished really well to bring Leicester back into the game – two-one!
With only a one-goal difference the match became more tense. Zouma replaced Azpilicueta for Chelsea, and the in-stadium fans were audibly nervous. As so often is the case, the losing side did get their ‘one last chance’, in the 90th minute, and it was a good one. Perez was unmarked in front of goal just inside the penalty area, but he blazed the shot over.
Giroud replaced Werner, helping to run down the clock. Then, rather oddly, a fracas broke out. Pereira’s challenge looked fairly innocuous, but Rüdiger clearly had a different view and pushed Pereira close to the Leicester bench. Suddenly there was a skirmish involving players from both sides and a few of the City staff and subs too. No punches were thrown, and it was all a bit out of context in what had been a competitive, but not dirty, match. In the end, substitute Amartey was shown the yellow card, but no other punishment was deemed necessary by Mike Dean.
So … a two-one loss. Even the most devoted Leicester fan would admit that City probably did not deserve still to be in with a chance by the end of the game. Chelsea were much the better team. It was a match that showed up their many strengths, but also weaknesses, under Thomas Tuchel. They played with pace and purpose but wasted so many chances and – Mount aside – much of the time it looked as though none of their players had either the confidence or the guile to actually score a goal.
Leicester looked fatigued. Their creative players had off-days: Maddison was mostly anonymous, and even Tielemans was misplacing passes (and his corner-taking was particularly poor). It was a shame that Chelsea’s goals each came from unforced errors by City youngsters, but those youngsters have achieved so much for the team this season that one cannot really criticise them for such occasional lapses.
It was good to see fans back in the ground. It was great to be part of a crowd on Saturday, of course, but even the presence of opposition fans made the TV experience seem more like a proper game of football.
At the time of writing, all City fans will doubtless become temporary Burnley fans … then, if necessary, Crystal Palace fans, willing each team to stop Liverpool from taking the final Champions League spot. In truth, at the beginning of this season, those fans would I am sure have settled for that long-awaited FA Cup win and Europa League football with both their heart and their head!
Chelsea: Mendy, James, Thiago Silva, Rüdiger, Azpilicueta, Kanté, Jorginho, Chilwell, Pulisic, Mount, Werner Subs: Arrizabalaga, Alonso, Abraham, Zouma, Kovacic, Giroud, Hudson-Odoi, Ziyech, Emerson
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Castagne, Fofana, Söyüncü, Albrighton, Tielemans. Ndidi, Thomas, Pérez, Maddison, Vardy. Subs: Morgan, Ward, Iheanacho, Amartey, Choudhury, Ricardo Pereira, Mendy, Praet, Fuchs
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