Thursday 8 December 2016

Numbers add up for Conte as Foxes' focus drifts to Europe

Chelsea 3 Leicester City 0

Miguel Delaney

Published 16/10/2016 | 02:30

Victor Moses acrobatically celebrates scoring Chelsea’s third goal in their 3-0 home victory over faltering champions Leicester City. Picture: Getty Images
Victor Moses acrobatically celebrates scoring Chelsea’s third goal in their 3-0 home victory over faltering champions Leicester City. Picture: Getty Images

It didn't feel like the battle of the last two champions, but part of that is because this mismatch came to down to one specific number, rather than any titles.

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Antonio Conte fixed on the three at the back system that has worked so well for him elsewhere, Chelsea scored three goals and claimed three points - and Leicester City lost by three for the third time in eight games.

Chelsea's Diego Costa bursts past Leicester City's Daniel Amartey and Marc Albrighton (left) Picture: Reuters
Chelsea's Diego Costa bursts past Leicester City's Daniel Amartey and Marc Albrighton (left) Picture: Reuters

The defending champions were once again levelled, in what feels like a general levelling out after the freakish miracle of last season. Chelsea are meanwhile still trying to recover from their own freakish collapse last season but, after successive bad defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal, they seem to have found their rhythm.

Even though their 3-4-3 saw John Terry omitted and many other players missing - with the victory dedicated to the grieving Willian's recently deceased mother - it allowed them to raise their game and everyone looked so much more comfortable.

"A coach is like a tailor who must find the system that's best for his players", Conte said, and it produced their best performance of the season so far. Eden Hazard certainly agreed, saying that he and the rest of the attackers felt freer, and it also tightened up the defence. Even Gary Cahill looked secure in a three against the pace of Jamie Vardy and Ahmed Musa, in a way he just hadn't beforehand.

"After we conceded a lot of goals I decided to change it before the Hull game," Conte explained. "We have continued that. But this system uses the talent of all the players. . . I am calm now. Very happy."

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte (right) and Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri. Picture: Reuters
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte (right) and Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri. Picture: Reuters

Conte didn't look calm or happy when it came to the day's one loose thread, as he and Diego Costa had what seemed a heated disagreement over the striker's desire to be substituted. Had Costa picked up a booking, he would have been out of next week's home match against Manchester United, and also checked his hamstring on more than one occasion. Despite that, Conte insisted he stay on.

"I know I risked it today," the Italian admitted, "but I repeat: Costa, his passion is important for the team. He must transfer this in every game and in every single minute of the game."

It took just seven minutes to transfer it into a goal, as Costa claimed his seventh in just eight games, by powering Nemanja Matic's flick past Kasper Schmeichel from close range. Chelsea were rampant from then, and Leicester could easily have been 4-0 down by half-time, just as they were against Manchester United three weeks ago.

In between David Luiz powering one free-kick off the bar and another off Schmeichel's hands, Hazard made it 2-0 on 33 minutes, rounding the goalkeeper after Pedro's ball had caused Luis Hernandez and Robert Huth to haphazardly collide with each other.

Leicester were finally facing the collapse that many expected late into last season's title win, but then this wasn't exactly the title-winning team. Aside from the fact the irrepressible N'Golo Kante was in the Chelsea midfield rather than theirs, Ranieri decided to rest Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez ahead of Tuesday's Champions League home match against Copenhagen, and claimed he didn't regret it. He still put forward the uniqueness of their European campaign as a major factor in why they are 13th in the table without a single point from away games.

"Yes, of course," Ranieri said, on whether he would pick the same team again. "Now we have a tough match on Tuesday against a very well organised team. The Premier League is one year long. The Champions League is two months, in and out. We want to go into the knockout stage of the Champions League, or the Europa League. To achieve this you have to have all your players fit. I prefer to preserve some players for Tuesday night.

"It's difficult to say what happened this season. You see a different Leicester, and so do I and my players. Are we thinking more about the Champions League than the Premier League? I know it's normal that, when a team goes into the Champions League for the first time, the concentration is very high in Europe. It's not the same in the Premier League. I can understand this, but for this reason I want more concentration in the Premier League. But I can do only one thing: work more, more and more."

Instead, it just looked like Chelsea would score more and more. Kante powered through the middle on 57 minutes, curling the ball around for Victor Moses to squander a one-on-one, and the French midfielder almost scored against his old team himself only for Wes Morgan to block his close-range effort.

Chelsea finally got a fitting third on 80 minutes, with what was probably the finest goal of the match. Substitute Nathaniel Chalobah played a one-touch back heel through to Moses, who easily slid the ball past Schmeichel.

Chelsea were rampant, Leicester routed.

You might say normal service has resumed, and it's difficult not to think some of this is an evening out from the chaos of last season. That is why Ranieri is probably justified in saying he's "not worried", even if there are still things about the team that can be fixed.

"I know my job. There are good moments and bad moments, but you have to work hard, hard, hard. Only in this way can you change the way things happen."

That is what Conte has demanded from Chelsea, and seems to have worked so far. He certainly worked his voice, shouting right through the entire match, even as his team were so comfortably in the lead.

"Because I know that, in football when you are winning 2-0, in 10 or 15 minutes you are losing. For this reason I always stay on edge to maintain the right atmosphere on the pitch for my players."

He got the numbers right, and the numbers on the table look much healthier for Chelsea.

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