Chelsea’s second-half showing puts them on cusp of title
Jose Mourinho’s side need just three points to claim Premier League crown
John Terry scores Chelsea’s second goal during the Premier League game against Leicester City at King Power Stadium. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters/Livepic
Leicester City 1 Chelsea 3
There was a point when Chelsea looked like they might be stretching out the run-in longer than anyone had anticipated and Leicester City were threatening to win a fifth successive top-division game for the first time since 1964.
As it turned out, that was the point at which Chelsea reminded everyone why their opponents are merely a speck in the distance when it comes to the league table. They were wonderful in the second half and will now be confirmed as champions if they beat Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
By the end, José Mourinho’s only real issue seemed to be the flecks of mud that were threatening to ruin his suede shoes from a night of swirling wind and rain. Mourinho was busy cleaning them when Ramires arrowed in the third goal. Soon afterwards, the away end could be heard mimicking the “boring, boring Chelsea” chants that had irritated Mourinho more than he was probably willing to let on at Arsenal last weekend.
The champions-in-waiting had played as though affronted by the tag and, in the midst of everything, Cesc Fàbregas underlined how remarkable it is that he has somehow not made it on to the Professional Footballers’ Association’s team of the year.
Didier Drogba had started the comeback three minutes into the second half before John Terry put them in the lead 12 minutes from the end, following in to score from the rebound after Kasper Schmeichel had kept out Gary Cahill’s header from a corner.
Chelsea had to show great perseverance because Leicester did not resemble a side that has spent seven-eighths of the season looking like certainties for the relegation morgue. Nigel Pearson’s team played without even a flicker of trepidation. They pressed and they harried but they also played with width and penetration and Esteban Cambiasso’s touches in midfield must have reminded Mourinho about the Italian’s contribution when Inter Milan won the Champions League in 2010. Cambiasso produced one of the game’s outstanding moments to deceive Willian with some improvisational ball-juggling. He was on the floor at the time and that, perhaps, summed up the new confidence of this team.
They also had some rotten luck given the way injuries disrupted their planning. Andy King was the first player to be forced off after 18 minutes. Robert Huth followed five minutes later and it was probably just inevitable after that kind of disruption that for a quarter of an hour they lost their early impetus and Chelsea started to look like they were going to take control.
Fàbregas’s ability to show for the ball and pick the right pass was a considerable influence during those moments and Chelsea’s increased sense of adventure was epitomised by the frequency with which Branislav Ivanovic joined in their attacks. What they could not do was find a way behind a re-arranged defence. Leicester shook their heads clear, playing with great togetherness, and when they did take the lead nobody could say it came out of the blue.
Petr Cech was deputising for Thibaut Courtois because the Belgian was suffering from a hip injury and four minutes before the interval we were reminded that Chelsea have the best second-choice goalkeeper in the business with his save to turn Paul Konchesky’s snap-shot against the post. Marc Albrighton’s follow-up effort was blocked by Cahill but these moments gave Leicester encouragement to think their opponents might be vulnerable and in their next attack the substitute Matty James sent Jamie Vardy running through the inside-left channel. Vardy angled the ball across the penalty area and, for once, Chelsea’s back four was out of position. César Azpilicueta would still have cleared the danger in ordinary circumstances but the left back slipped at the vital moment and that fall left Albrighton in space to pick his spot.
Leicester could also reflect on that moment early on when Cambiasso’s pass gave Leonardo Ulloa the chance to run clear only for the striker to waste the opportunity with a wretched first touch.
There was, however, some generous defending in the move that led to Chelsea’s equaliser and for the first time a reminder of Leicester’s shortcomings. Fàbregas’s little up-and-over ball took out three opponents by the touchline. Ivanovic was forward again and Drogba, anticipating the cross, got in front of Ritchie de Laet, the replacement for Huth, to flash his shot past Schmeichel.
Suddenly the complexion of the game had changed. Fàbregas was superb, quickly creating another chance for Drogba that went over the crossbar. The Spaniard then had his own opportunity but could not adjust his feet quickly enough after Willian had picked him out at the far post.
After that, Leicester threatened only sporadically, whereas the quick, incisive football involving Fàbregas, Willian and Eden Hazard was a frequent danger. Terry’s goal came after a concerted period of superiority and Ramires added the final flourish with a lovely, measured left-foot shot from Fàbregas’s pass.