Chelsea suffered defeat on a difficult evening away at a Leicester City side who ended the match top of the Premier League table.
Despite the 2-0 scoreline it was a fairly even encounter in terms of possession for much of the game, but the home side created the better of the chances and more of them, as well as making the most of them.
The damage was done at either end of the first half, with the opening goal coming after just six minutes and with a slice of fortune for Leicester, as Wilfred Ndidi hit a loose ball from outside the box and his shot went in off the bottom of the post.
That was the first of several times a fine margin would go against us, as seen at the end of the first half. Just seconds after it had seemed we would have the chance to equalise from the penalty spot, only for VAR to decide the offence had taken place outside the box, a Leicester long ball found its way to James Maddison with the space to make it two.
In the second half both teams had goals ruled out for offside, but while Leicester’s was clear, replays showed substitute Timo Werner was desperately close to being onside when he turned in Hakim Ziyech’s free-kick with five minutes left.
Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham came into the starting line-up to form a youthful front three with Christian Pulisic. That meant Hakim Ziyech and Olivier Giroud make way, while Pulisic made his 50th appearance for Chelsea in all competitions.
In midfield Kai Havertz made his first Premier League start for over a month, coming in for Jorginho, as Mateo Kovacic and goalscorer Mason Mount retained their places from the win over Fulham.
There was just one change to the back five, as Reece James returned from injury in place of Cesar Azpilicueta, meaning Thiago Silva captained the side and partnered Toni Rudiger at centre-back, with Ben Chilwell returning to the King Power Stadium for the first time since moving from Leicester to Chelsea in August.
Edouard Mendy continued between the posts.
Chelsea nearly managed to fashion a chance in the opening seconds as Thiago Silva spotted Christian Pulisic’s run and played an excellent long pass in behind for the American, and it took an excellently timed intervention from Wesley Fofana to prevent Pulisic getting free in the box less than 20 seconds from the kick-off.
It looked like the Blues had identified the space in behind Leicester’s defence as a possible early route to goal, as Rudiger and Thiago Silva both looked for the quick pass for our front three to chase at any opportunity.
However, it was Leicester who got the first goal of the game early on with one of their first meaningful attacks. For a moment it looked like we had been let off as an angled cut-back across our box was completely missed by Harvey Barnes.
Unfortunately, the ball then found its way to Wilfred Ndidi just outside the box and his low first-time drive gave Edouard Mendy no chance as it struck the foot of the post and went in.
The shock of conceding that early goal seemed to effect the Blues for a few minutes, but after fending off a bit of pressure from the home side we settled back into our rhythm.
Our first chance to respond came through a quick counter-attack down the right after Reece James won possession on the halfway line, drove forward with the ball and released Callum Hudson-Odoi to deliver a first-time cross, but Tammy Abraham couldn’t quite get it under control with his chest under pressure 12 yards out.
There was evidence we still needed to be wary at the back against this dangerous Leicester team, though, when Maddison struck the crossbar from outside the area.
For our part, that combination of James and Hudson-Odoi was looking promising, again causing the Foxes trouble, but this time Schmeichel beating Hudson-Odoi’s drive away high a the front post.
The home side had their goalkeeper to thank for maintaining their lead again shortly afterwards, when Thiago Silva got across the defensive line at a corner and flashed a header on target from a tight angle, but the Dane somehow managed to claw the ball out and away from under the crossbar.
At the other end, Mendy had to be alert to tip another Leicester effort from long range over the bar, with the Foxes clearly looking to shoot on sight.
At this point in the match the two teams were almost taking it in turns to attack, although Leicester were perhaps looking marginally the most dangerous going forward, and Kai Havertz was given the game’s first yellow card for pulling back Barnes trying to win the ball back as we approached the half-hour mark.
Schmeichel was our nemesis again when Mendy tried to play Abraham in behind early with a long kick forward after collecting a Leicester corner, as the Leicester keeper raced out to intercept the pass with his head on the centre-circle. Hudson-Odoi then had a chance after being found on the right of the box, but will be disappointed he didn’t manage to hit the target as his shot rippled the side netting wide of the near post.
Then it was Mendy’s turn to be called into action again, as Jamie Vardy raced away on the counter and tried to chip the keeper, but Mendy stayed big and got enough on the effort to divert it wide and take the pace of it, allowing Rudiger to collect the ball and build out from the back again.
It wasn’t until the last 10 minutes of the first half that the game finally settled into a regular pattern, as Leicester started to drop all 11 men behind the ball and allow Chelsea to dominate possession in an effort to hold their lead until the break.
Double blow before the break
It looked those efforts would be scuppered when Mason Mount drove forward and threaded a pass into Christian Pulisic on the edge of the box, as the American went down under Jonny Evans’ challenge as he turned towards goal and the referee pointed to the spot.
However, VAR intervened and determined that the foul had taken place marginally outside the penalty area, changing Craig Pawson’s decision to a free-kick, which Mount couldn’t keep down.
From looking like we would have the chance to equalise before half-time from the penalty spot, we then found ourselves going in for the break two goals behind. When Marc Albrighton launched a high ball into our penalty area, Rudiger was left with two men and opted to stay tight to Vardy, but when the ball eluded them both Maddison was waiting at the back post to volley low past Mendy.
As the second half began it resumed the same high, open pace we had seen during much of the opening 45 minutes. The first chance came to Leicester, as James Justin had a great chance to extend their lead further with a back-post header, but sent it tamely wide of the post.
We then called Schmeichel into action twice in quick succession, as James played Abraham in behind with a precisely weighted pass, although the keeper was off his line quickly to block the shot and then gathered Rudiger’s header comfortably from the resulting corner.
Leicester had the ball in the back of the net a third time, through Marc Albrighton, but the winger was clearly offside at the end of a long passing move and it was one of the easiest decisions the referee would have all night to disallow the goal.
The Foxes were a constant threat on the counter-attack as we pushed numbers forward looking for a way back into the game, meaning we were thankful to Mendy when he saved well with his feet to deny Youri Tielemans at the end of another fast break by the home side.
Change of system
By now we were playing a 4-2-3-1 system, with Havertz pushed further forward to try and find space between the lines and provide closer support for Abraham, while Mount and Kovacic attempted to build attacks from deep, but we hadn’t managed to change the pattern of the game, which seemed to suit Leicester’s pacey counter-attacking style.
While the pace remained in the game, though, the number of chances was diminishing as we entered the last 30 minutes. In an attempt to change our side of that, Frank Lampard made a double substitution, with Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner coming on for Hudson-Odoi and Havertz. That saw another change of formation, as Werner joined Abraham in an out-and-out two-man strikeforce.
Werner looked lively straight away, demanding the ball over the top to chase from Thiago Silva and jinking his way past Timothy Castagne on the left wing. However, before we could fashion a clear chance out of our new shape, Leicester responded with a double substitution of their own, bringing on Ricardo Pereira to support Castagne, while Ayoze Perez replaced Maddison.
There were just under 15 minutes remaining then, as we attempted to force the Foxes back into their own half and forge a route back into the game. But while we were controlling more and more of the possession, chances were only becoming harder to carve out as Leicester dedicated more of their efforts to denying Abraham and Werner space in the final third.
We still had to be aware of their counter-attacking threat too, as shown when Mendy had to time things well to gather the ball as Vardy tried to wriggle free in the box following a long ball forward.
It briefly looked like we had pulled one back as our two subs combined. Ziyech curled a free-kick in from the left and Werner got on the end of it to divert it past Schmiechel, but the flag was up and after a lengthy VAR check the German was ruled narrowly offside.
That proved to be our last real chance of the game as Leicester’s pace and counter-attacks ultimately made the difference and ensured they would end the day in first place in the Premier League table.
Attention turns to the FA Cup for this weekend as we host Championship side Luton Town in the fourth round, with kick-off at midday on Sunday. Our next Premier League fixture is three days later, when Wolverhampton Wanderers will be the visitors to Stamford Bridge at 6pm on Wednesday.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Mendy; James, Rudiger, Thiago Silva (c), Chilwell; Mount, Kovacic, Havertz (Werner 66); Hudson-Odoi (Ziyech 66), Abraham, Pulisic
Unused subs: Kepa, Zouma, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Emerson, Jorginho, Gilmour
Booked: Havertz 29, Kovacic 52, Ziyech 89
Leicester (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel (c); Castagne, Fofana, Evans, Justin; Ndidi, Tielemans; Albrighton (Pereira 76), Maddison (Perez 76), Barnes; Vardy (Iheanacho 88)
Unused subs: Ward, Soyuncu, Amartey, Thomas, Choudhury, Under,
Scorer: Ndidi 6, Maddison 41
Referee: Craig Pawson