The Blues leave London for the first time in a month for this evening’s league game in the East Midlands. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton set the scene for the three-point hunt against the Foxes…
|As the Premier League reaches its halfway turn, Chelsea, the 12th best away side in the top flight, travel to Leicester, ranked 15th on home form. The Blues have had less preparation time than planned after the Fulham game was shunted back from Friday to Saturday, but tonight’s hosts played later the same evening, so all is fair.
Both sides managed to win and keep a clean sheet at the weekend, maintaining the challenge for a European place or even more. Going into this match against a serious rival, Frank Lampard is now demanding a kick-start and then consistency from his attacking players.
The Foxes have lost four times already this season at the King Power, earning just 13 of their 35 points at home. The Blues are unbeaten in four visits there since 2015, but will want to improve on seven points from the last possible 21 available, three of those coming at Fulham on Saturday.
Match reporters can never quite be sure of their story before the end with these two teams. Thirty-three per cent of Chelsea’s goals have come in the last quarter-hour, and with Leicester it is 36 per cent. A win could lift the Londoners up to sixth, three points behind Brendan Rodgers’ side ahead of an FA Cup weekend.
Brendan Rodgers is winless in each of his 15 meetings with Chelsea, who have won seven of those games.
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Chelsea team news
The three points earned at Fulham, however narrow it looks statistically, ended a three-game spell without a win and the Blues racked up six shots on target, the most since the remarkable marksmanship in the 3-0 at home to West Ham.
Among Lampard’s frustrations during Chelsea’s recent run of poor results must be the number of big chances passed over by his frontmen, but also the number of times the frame of the goal has been struck as opposed to the back of the net.
The latest efforts from Mason Mount (bar) and Hakim Ziyech (hand/post) took the Blues’ tally for the season to 11 – the most in the Premier League alongside the Hammers. Leicester have hit the woodwork seven times.
We can feel the current anguish of Timo Werner, who did well to create a typical one-on-one chance but steered it wide (and was far from alone in eschewing goalscoring opportunities). It will come, and it is worth noting that at home his goals and assists record is better than the much-lauded Jamie Vardy’s: three goals and three assists, compared to two goals and three assists for the Foxes’ striker.
Thankfully, a Lampard-esque moment from the exceptionally effective Mount sealed the victory. He confirmed his can-opening quality by drawing first blood for the Blues for the sixth time in two seasons and among his 11 goals, only three have simply added to the tally. The remainder have taken the lead, or sealed the deal on a draw or win. Against the Cottagers, the midfielder also set a five-year high for a Blues player by creating seven chances on the road (and he managed the same at home to Leeds).
Considering Fulham were previously unbeaten in six, including games against Liverpool and Tottenham, and won at Leicester in November, it was a worthy scalp and something on which to build momentum.
The coaching staff may have had one eye on tonight’s fixture in the selection for the west London derby. Reece James and Kurt Zouma could return to the back four, while another strong showing by Callum Hudson-Odoi as substitute at Craven Cottage suggested he is the most in-form of our wide players right now.
A hamstring injury will prevent N’Golo Kante featuring against his former club after he served his suspension at Fulham. Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic figured three days ago, but teenager Billy Gilmour is another option for the holding role.
Saturday’s win brought an 11th clean sheet for Edou Mendy from 20 matches in all competitions – 55 per cent – and his seventh in the top flight. His City counterpart Kasper Schmeichel has managed six in the league, a third of games played.
Rodgers on the rise
Leicester look very strong at the moment. Energetic, aggressive and very well-organised, they have a good shape across the whole pitch. Home performances may have been quite poor overall this season, but they have won their first two matches of the calendar year for the first time since 1984.
The former Chelsea Academy coach Brendan Rodgers has beaten 33 of the 34 Premier League clubs he has ever faced – the exception being Chelsea.
The Northern Irishman plays to City’s strengths, founded on solid defensive cover. It enables them to sit back and absorb pressure, patiently knock the ball around at the back hoping opponents will press them and they can play through.
The Blues will have to counter Leicester’s triggered pressing which can keep opponents hemmed in, blocked through the middle but allowed down the flanks where they run into trouble. The idea then is to win possession and counter-attack rapidly using wingers and full-backs.
Though Jamie Vardy appears the obvious threat, his goals record is vastly better away from the King Power this season. Their biggest players in the final third have been James Maddison, a creative number 10, and Harvey Barnes, who cuts in from the left.
As the Saints showed, the Foxes can be susceptible to well-timed runs behind the high line of their centre-backs Wesley Fofana and Jonny Evans. Blocking off defensive midfielder Wilfred Ndidi also upsets their fluidity and when pressed the Foxes’ defenders can lose their thread.
Fellow midfielder Papy Mendy may be missing again with a neck strain. In his absence at the weekend Youri Tielemens dropped deeper and registered his first two assists of the season.
Curiously, almost a quarter of the Foxes’ goals tally (eight of 33) comes from penalty kicks, and they missed two others. Ten is the most awarded in the Premier League by some distance, and twice as many as Chelsea’s five.
How to watch Leicester vs Chelsea
This match will be covered live by Sky Sports in the UK.
To find the relevant broadcaster where you are elsewhere, see the Premier League’s broadcast schedule pages
Our Blues-centred match coverage on the 5th Stand app, Facebook Live and official YouTube channel begins 70 minutes before kick-off with assessment of the teamsheets and exclusive interviews.
Tightest race for seven years
The strange air pervading the whole country is helping to produce the most open top-flight title race for a while: just eight points separate leaders Man United from ninth-placed West Ham, who have the same points as Chelsea in seventh.
|9||West Ham United||18||8||5||5||25||21||4||29|
In five of the past six seasons at this juncture, an eight-point margin would only stretch down to third. The anomaly was the Foxes’ success in 2015/16, when it would have extended to fifth. The most similar season to the current one after 18 matches is 2013/14, when Arsenal led with 39 points and Tottenham, in 8th, were just eight adrift. The Gunners slipped to fourth by May’s close, and champions Manchester City moved from second to first.
At the same stage last season Liverpool, with 49 points, were 10 clear of the Foxes in second and 17 ahead of Chelsea. Although the Reds won the title, the Blues hauled in tonight’s hosts, finishing four points above them in the final Champions League place. That second-half turnaround is a measure of what is still possible if the Fulham result can be the start of a long, good run.
|5||Tottenham||0||last won title 1960/61|
|9||West Ham||0||never won|
West London derby footnotes
When wing-back Antonee Robinson saw red for his wild challenge on Cesar Azpilicueta, he became the first Fulham player to be sent off against Chelsea since September 1926, when Bert Barrett retaliated to a foul by Bob Turnbull and was handed his marching orders. The crowd 94 years ago booed the Pensioners’ striker’s every touch after that, and an ‘unpleasant match’ ended 2-2.
Meanwhile, the Blues’ sixth successive league victory over the Cottagers on Saturday matched our best-ever sequence against our nearest neighbours, last achieved in the old Division One between December 1950 and February 1960.
Saturday’s round four FA Cup guests Luton Town enjoyed a 1-0 success away to 10-man Bournemouth at the weekend, their first Championship win on the road since early November.
Atletico Madrid right-back Kieran Trippier has had his FA ban for gambling irregularities upheld by FIFA and will miss our Round of 16 first leg match in Madrid on 23 February unless the Spanish club now appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Premier League fixtures
West Ham v West Brom 6pm (BT Sport)
Leicester v Chelsea 8.15pm (Sky Sports)
Man City v Aston Villa 6pm (BT Sport)
Fulham v Man Utd 8.15pm (BT Sport)
Liverpool v Burnley 8pm (Sky Sports)