Chelsea secured a third-place Premier League finish with a point on the road as our domestic campaign came to a close at the King Power Stadium.
The Blues were unable to score for the first time in seven games but a clean sheet ensured a share of the points, and Tottenham’s own draw at home to Everton means Maurizio Sarri’s side end the season with only Manchester City, the champions, and Liverpool above us.
The first period was engaging if not action-packed, with Ross Barkley firing straight at Kasper Schmeichel early on and Gonzalo Higuain twice going close to breaking the deadlock. The first effort was unlucky, a low strike that flashed just wide of the far post, though his second chance at the end of the half ought to have caused Schmeichel more problems following Marcos Alonso’s cross.
Opportunities were more sparse after the break, with only Pedro and Loftus-Cheek offering the threat of a Chelsea goal, but a point was ultimately enough to add third place to our Champions League return.
The squad will now fly to Boston tomorrow for the ‘Final Whistle On Hate’ charity match aimed at raising awareness of antisemitism and other forms of discrimination issues. It is hosted by New England Revolution at their Gillette Stadium and is played in the early hours of Thursday morning UK time. On our return home later in the week, attentions turn to Baku and a European final against Arsenal.
LEICESTER (A) PREM 18/19
Highlights from our Premier League match v Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
Maurizio Sarri made six changes from our demanding Europa League semi-final second leg three days previously, which required extra-time and penalties before the Blues could secure progress to the final in Baku. Willy Caballero started in goal, while Marcos Alonso and Davide Zappacosta came into the back four protecting the Argentinian as Cesar Azpilicueta shifted to partner David Luiz at centre-back.
Azpilicueta’s selection ensured he completed an ever-present Premier League campaign for the second time in a Chelsea shirt. Further forward, Barkley returned in midfield and there were starts for Higuain and Pedro in attack. There was also a place on the bench for the first time for 18-year-old Academy defender Marc Guehi.
The Foxes were unchanged for a third consecutive game, with Jamie Vardy up top looking to add to his 18 league goals this term, and Brendan Rodgers’s team aiming for an eighth-place finish. Sarri’s side, meanwhile, had secured Champions League football for next season last weekend but were targeting the three points that would keep them third.
Those efforts started brightly in the Midlands sunshine and Barkley almost opened the scoring inside three minutes, the England midfielder latching on to Jorginho’s measured clipped pass forward. His control was perfect and an instant strike was heading in but struck Kasper Schmeichel on the shoulder and diverted from danger. It went down as a good save even if the Dane knew little about it.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek had hit double figures with a cultured finish in Thursday’s semi-final against Eintracht Frankfurt and soon had an opportunity to add goal number 11 with a chance in the air from Zappacosta’s cross, though the 23-year-old’s contact lacked the requisite purchase and flew over the bar.
There was an end-of-season feel around the King Power Stadium, with both sides free of pressure and the visitors with one eye on the Europa League final at the end of the month. Hamza Choudhury sliced a volley wide as Leicester started to pose a threat of their own, while Caballero saved comfortably from Ben Chilwell and then Youri Tielemans.
Higuain went closest to a first-half opener with 29 minutes on the clock when he fashioned some space on the edge of the Leicester box, though his low right-footed effort flashed a foot wide of the far post.
Down the other end, Chilwell and Vardy combined again to put Caballero to work, the left-back delivering a teasing free-kick that married perfectly with the striker’s dart to the front post, though his header went straight into the midriff of our keeper.
Much of our good play was coming in wide areas and it was through this route that Pedro latched on to a ball into the box, turned and fired in a shot at goal. It was a moment of worry for Leicester but Jonny Evans read the danger and threw himself in the way to make a crucial block.
In the final moments of the first half, both sides exchanged presentable opportunities to take the lead. Vardy had the first as David Luiz slipped and the forward advanced through on goal, though his decision to opt to find Tielemans rather than go alone was perhaps the wrong one and the ball was eventually collected by Caballero.
Alonso then thought he had supplied the perfect delivery for Higuain in stoppage time as the Spaniard crossed from the left byline, though our number nine got his feet mixed up and the ball bounced agonisingly wide.
While there was plenty of goalmouth incident in the first 45 minutes, much of the drama came in the stands as both sets of supporters followed events in the Premier League title race, with Manchester City’s goals at Brighton celebrated particularly vocally in the away end.
The restart followed a similar pattern as half-chances came and went around both penalty areas. Tielemans tried again with a volleyed attempt even more spectacular than his try before the break but missed once more, while Barkley dragged a shot wide of the far post from a decent position.
Azpilicueta had Chelsea hearts in mouths momentarily after 56 minutes as Leicester attacked swiftly down the right and Albrighton put in a dangerous ball across the face of goal. Caballero went for it but our skipper felt the need to intervene first with Vardy lurking and his clearance spun behind, just avoiding the near post. Pedro then took aim for the Blues but missed the target quite comfortably on his left side.
The game’s tempo had fallen though and the hosts were able to introduce the departing duo of Shinji Okazaki and Danny Simpson for a King Power farewell for the final 20 minutes. Sarri called upon Eden Hazard for a cameo of his own and the Belgian combined brilliantly with Loftus-Cheek to set up a promising moment before Evans stopped the attack in its tracks.
David Luiz did well to thwart Okazaki’s cross with 10 minutes remaining and Tielemans narrowly missed the target late on but the draw was enough to secure a third-place league finish. Now for one final push in Baku.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Caballero; Zappacosta, Azpilicueta (c), David Luiz, Alonso; Barkley (Kovacic 76), Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek; Pedro, Higuain (Giroud 84), Willian (Hazard 69)
Unused subs Kepa, Christensen, Emerson, Guehi
Booked Jorginho 30
Leicester City (4-4-1-1) Schmeichel; Ricardo, Evans, Maguire, Chilwell; Choudry, Ndidi (Okazaki 67), Albrighton (Simpson 76), Tielemans; Maddison (Barnes 84); Vardy
Unused subs Ward, Gray, Iheanacho, Morgan
Referee Anthony Taylor