Chelsea come from 2-0 down as Cesc Fabregas hits extra time brace to beat 10-man Foxes
Leicester 2 Chelsea 4 (After extra time)
Cesc Fabregas came in from the cold to give Antonio Conte the kind of comeback victory that should reassure the Chelsea manager that, while he may not yet have a highly-functioning defence, the resolve that was absent last season among his players is returning.
In only his second start of the season, Fabregas scored the two decisive goals in extra-time of this EFL Cup third round tie, that capped Chelsea’s comeback from 2-0 down in the first half against a ten-man Leicester City side. There were times when Conte’s team, who conceded two goals from Shinji Okazaki, had looked as ragged as they had been in their rapid decline last season but they turned it around.
They were helped by the dismissal of the Polish defender Marcin Wasilewski on 90 minutes for a second yellow card for shoving a forearm into the face of substitute Diego Costa, and with the Brazilian striker and Eden Hazard both on the pitch as the tie finally turned their way.
The first of Fabregas’s goals encompassed the best of the 2014-2015 title-winning Chelsea team, a combination between Hazard, Costa and then finally Fabregas to stroke the ball past Ron-Robert Zieler. They had been dragged back into the game with goals either side of half-time by Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta and, having been pushed hard by Leicester finally got a grip on the match.
As for Leicester, it was a strange failure of nerve by Claudio Ranieri’s team who were in such a commanding position until time added on at the end of half-time. The Leicester manager sent on Jamie Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa at the end of the 90 minutes but having thrown away the advantage, the red card for Wasilewski was a blow from which they never recovered.
Seven changes for both managers from their teams in the previous round of Premier League exertions. Antonio Conte has had four days to stew on that home defeat to Liverpool on Friday night and he decided that for the purposes of the EFL Cup, and with Arsenal waiting on Sunday, he would save many of the big guns.
It meant Willian, N’Golo Kante, Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois were all on the bench and Cesc Fabregas had his second start of the season, both of them in this competition. There was a chance again for Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the No 10 position, where he played against Bristol Rovers in the previous round.
If the linesman Scott Ledger had not spotted that Pedro’s run in pursuit of Davd Luiz’s long ball from the back on five minutes was onside it might have been a different story. That said, as the Chelsea winger had gone past goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler it looked like the German goalkeeper had already stopped play, but even so, it should have been a legitimate chance.
Yet, in all other areas, Leicester looked much sharper than their visitors and nowhere more so than the goalscorer Okazaki, starting his first game since the defeat to Liverpool earlier this month. On the wings Demarai Gray and Jeff Schlupp looked aggressive and by contrast Chelsea were awfully ponderous at times.
Cahill stumbled over the ball on 14 minutes and appeared to put his arms around Okazaki as the striker took it away from him. A couple of seconds later, Cahill was involved in some more riskiness in his own penalty area when he seemed to shove Ahmed Musa, another thorn in the side of the Chelsea defence.
Three minutes later and the first of Okazaki’s two first half goals went in. Neither of them hit the net and both were hooked out by retreating defenders but there was no question they had crossed the line. The first came when Cesar Azpilicueta fatally chested a cross back across his own goal and with Cahill signalling that it was Asmir Begovic’s ball, the goalkeeper failed to act. Okazaki headed it past him.
The second was another painful moment for Conte when Pedro’s clearance fell to Andy King who did well to bring it under control and loft a clever ball over the Chelsea defence. Okazaki took it on his chest and with little pace on the ball struck it down into the ground so that his shot bounced up and over Begovic.
Before then, Michy Batshuayi had missed with a header when he was unmarked and Chelsea were generally being out-hustled all over the pitch. They finally came back with a goal in time added on at the end of the half when Cahill headed in at the back post. Danny Drinkwater did get a foot to the ball, for it to go back in off David Luiz.
Chelsea’s second came from a poor clearance by Wasilewski after Loftus-Cheek had a shot blocked. The Polish defender could only reach as far as Azpilicueta, the full-back who stuck the ball sweetly with past Zieler for the equaliser.
Costa was on in place of Loftus-Cheek and an effective presence. Nathaniel Chalobah, veteran of six loan spells at Chelsea, finally made his senior debut for the club. After an engrossing end to the 90 minutes, Fabregas scored two in quick succession in extra-time, his second a volley in the area after Leicester had failed to clear, and Chelsea were out of sight.