Wednesday 17 January 2018

Blues on brink of title after stirring comeback

Leicester City 1 Chelsea 3

Didier Drogba strikes to score Chelsea’s equalising goal against Leicester last night
Didier Drogba strikes to score Chelsea’s equalising goal against Leicester last night
Ramires celebrates with Cesar Azpilicueta after scoring Chelsea’s third goal
Chelsea celebrate after the victory
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho gives encouragement to his side during the match

Sam Wallace

It told you everything you need to know about how Chelsea's support regard their reputation in some quarters for having bulldozed their way to a fourth Premier League title that the banner in the away end before the game proclaimed proudly they had been "ruining football since 2003".

It was two fingers to the "boring Chelsea" jibe launched at them by the Arsenal supporters on Sunday, to the objections to Roman Abramovich's years of plenty, to anyone who might deny them taking the full delight from their most satisfying triumph yet in the Jose Mourinho II era. Chelsea can seal the league title with a win at home to Crystal Palace on Sunday and this was a defiant, sardonic message that nothing will diminish their joy at regaining a trophy the club has not won for five years.

This was another performance that demonstrated all the hallmarks of a Mourinho plan: a tough away win, one in which they came from a goal behind against a team on a good run and with so much to play for. That the first two goals came from those old stagers Didier Drogba and John Terry will have made it all the sweeter. As usual, Chelsea found a way to win this game in a way that has eluded other sides who were once considered title contenders.


For Leicester, who took the lead through Marc Albrighton, it was a hard night but then they were always likely to struggle against a team as relentless as Chelsea. Nigel Pearson's team tried their best to win this game, and they carried it to Chelsea as often as possible.

It had been a bad start for Leicester, who lost two players to injury within the first 23 minutes, prompting Pearson to switch his formation from a three-man to a four-man defence, but to their credit they coped admirably.

First there was an innocuous injury to midfielder Andy King, then the former Chelsea defender Robert Huth landed awkwardly and limped off. In those first exchanges, Chelsea tried to blow their opposition away but Leicester held strong. By the end of the half they were well in the game and then, seconds before half-time, in the lead.

With Diego Costa and Loïc Rémy both still injured and sitting in the stand, Mourinho soldiered on with Didier Drogba in attack and offering increasingly fewer options to a team that needs a strong-running lone striker. The old lion of Stamford Bridge even shanked a decent shooting chance in the first 15 minutes. He does not have the power and mobility of old to move defenders around at will.

In midfield, Leicester got away with a couple of wild challenges, a lunge from Paul Konchesky on Ramires, for which he was booked, then a stamp by Esteban Cambiasso on the toes of Eden Hazard which caused a bit of uproar among the away team. Yet Leicester passed the ball crisply in midfield and they almost had a goal when Konchesky stole in behind Ramires on 36 minutes and Petr Cech had to push the ball on to the post.

The veteran goalkeeper was preferred to Thibaut Courtois, who was fit enough to be named on the bench. On the right side Albrighton looked sharp and it was him who arrived on the end of Jamie Vardy's cross from the left to score in the final minute of the half. It would probably never have reached him if Cesar Azpilicueta had not slipped over at the crucial moment when the ball came across.

The move had begun when Nemanja Matic had cleared the ball with too little direction or purpose. But it had taken a good ball from substitute Matty James to put Vardy away. By that point, Chelsea had barely fashioned a chance worthy of the name and they struggled with Leicester's pace on the counter-attack, especially with the running of Vardy.

Having departed for half-time a little rattled, Chelsea equalised within two minutes of the start of the second half and should have had another a minute after that. Both chances fell to Drogba and the first he scored, after Branislav Ivanovic had escaped too easily from James on the left side and cut it back to the old boy.

On that occasion, Drogba found the net like the days of old, for his first goal since December. There was great relief among the away team and their momentum carried them forward again within seconds. Eden Hazard guided the ball down to Cesc Fabregas and he delivered the ball to Drogba's feet for what should have been a relatively straightforward finish. Drogba's shooting, the goal aside, had been erratic all night and he missed badly.

That said, there was a confidence about Chelsea after the equaliser that it would be a matter of time before the goals came, and so it proved. They had to make heavy weather of it at times and there was another wayward shot from Drogba, played in again by Fabregas, before the breakthrough.

No prizes for the beauty of the second goal, but it was typical of the raw determination. A corner from the left with Ivanovic and Marcin Wasilewski wrestling each other to a standstill and a slip from Wes Morgan as he tried to track Gary Cahill's run to the near post. His header was well-saved by Kasper Schmeichel but Terry had run through the bodies in the box and got a sliced shot on the ball that took it past Cambiasso on the line.

The third came from Ramires, perfectly teed up by Fabregas with seven minutes left for a side-footed shot past Schmeichel in the area. In the end, Leicester were stretched beyond breaking point on the counter-attack and helpless amid the tide of attacks. Their destiny will be resolved elsewhere, starting with Newcastle on Saturday. By Sunday, Chelsea could well be champions. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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