It was a very happy return to Stamford Bridge for Chelsea supporters as the Blues conjured up a fantastic showing to deservedly beat Leicester and move above the Foxes in the Premier League table.
Second-half goals from Toni Rudiger and Jorginho were just reward for a dominant Chelsea performance full of invention, pace and grit. With two goals disallowed, more missed chances and some VAR controversy, the margin of victory could have been greater, but as it turned out a Kelechi Iheanacho strike 15 minutes from time made for a nervier ending than anyone inside the ground of a Chelsea persuasion would have liked.
Timo Werner was the man frustrated on numerous occasions in the first half, although after Rudiger had bundled us ahead 90 seconds into the second period, it was the forward brought down for a VAR-given penalty calmly converted by Jorginho.
Roared on by a phenomenal home support who didn’t stop singing all night, the Blues crossed the line to move into third place in the table. Now we just need to cross the Premier League finishing line with another victory at Villa. If we manage that we will be contesting Champions League football next season, whatever happens in Porto.
Thomas Tuchel made three changes to the Chelsea side that started the FA Cup final, with Edouard Mendy’s return in goal as expected.
At left wing-back, Ben Chilwell was selected to face his former team, with the other alteration in attack, where Christian Pulisic started in place of Hakim Ziyech.
As at Wembley, Reece James played on the right side of the back three with Cesar Azpilicueta ahead of him. Mateo Kovacic and Tammy Abraham were on the bench, with the former introduced earlier than he would have expected as N'Golo Kante's night was ended through injury.
Leicester’s teamsheet bore two changes to their Cup final side, with Marc Albrighton and James Maddison starting.
In front of our biggest crowd for over 15 months, Chelsea started full of energy and intent. Barely two minutes were on the clock when Werner beautiful dummied a pass on halfway and fed Chilwell to his left. His cross-shot was hard and low, and inches beyond the stretching Pulisic. Then a vicious Mason Mount cross evaded everyone with the home support roaring every touch.
The atmosphere was electric, and so was the football. Next James shot wide from range, Kante fired at Schmeichel, and Pulisic had a strike deflected over.
There was a big talking point with 20 minutes played. As Youri Tielemans went to clear inside the box, Werner nipped in front of him and was kicked on the back of the leg. Mike Dean gave a free-kick to Leicester, however, with VAR not deeming the incident worthy of overturning. Werner did have the ball in the net a couple of minutes later, but the offside flag denied him the opening goal.
With 25 minutes gone, Jamie Vardy hooked a volley well over Mendy’s bar with what proved to be Leicester’s only attempt of the first half. We had 14.
Chelsea kept pressing and pressing and pressing, forcing the Foxes back. Mount magnificently controlled a high ball in the box and manufactured a shooting opportunity which forced Schmeichel to tip over. From the corner Thiago Silva couldn’t keep his header on target.
Worryingly, Kante was withdrawn shortly after the half-hour, with Kovacic his replacement. Everyone inside the Bridge was thinking the same thing: ‘hopefully just a precautionary move ahead of Porto’.
Werner was soon in the thick of things once more. He raced on to a Jorginho pass and had a shot blocked, and then he scored again, this time from a corner. The celebrations were wild, but VAR spotted a clear handball as Werner tried to shovel the ball over the line. More frustration. Was it going to be one of those nights?
We created two more clear chances before the interval, with Mount firing over and then superbly bursting free down the right before picking out Pulisic, who couldn’t force the ball past Schmeichel at his near post.
Breakthrough at last!
It had been all Chelsea, but again finding the net was proving our problem.
Not for much longer! Ninety seconds of the second half was all it took for us to get the goal we had deserved from the first whistle of the game.
Azpi hurried Luke Thomas into conceding a cheap corner which Chilwell swung over. Vardy could only get the faintest flick on it, sending it across the six-yard box, and there was Rudiger in the right place at the right time to bundle it into the Shed End net with his hip. No disallowing that one!
Mount shook off a nasty knock to carry on and then Rudiger had the crowd screaming his name again with a surge forward and Cruyff turn.
Luck hadn’t been on Werner’s side tonight but that changed midway through the second half. Dribbling away from goal, Wesley Fofana brought him down fairly innocuously. Free-kick given, but replays showed the initial contact was inside the box.
Jorginho hopped and skipped and calmly placed the ball to the left of the static Schmeichel. 2-0!
We seemed to be in cruise control at this point, but out of nothing Leicester pulled one back. True, sub Iheanacho had fired a warning sign from the edge of the box, but there seemed little danger when we played a goal-kick out. Kovacic had possession stolen off him, however, and the ball was played into the unmarked Nigerian who fired home first time.
Fighting to the finish
A nervy finale beckoned. With so much at stake, staying calm was the order of the day. Aside from one almighty scare in the 90th minute, when Ricardo Pereira escaped down the right and teed up Ayoze Perez, who blazed well over, we held on deep into almost 10 additional minutes caused by some injury-time handbags.
It was a superb game of football and a superb showing from Chelsea. The 8000 or so supporters inside the Bridge headed home with a smile on their face, not only for being back at the football, but safe in the knowledge top-four qualification is now in our own hands.
Our Premier League campaign concludes at Villa Park on Sunday. Win and we finish third!
Chelsea (3-4-3): Mendy; James, Thiago Silva, Rudiger; Azpilicueta (c) (Zouma 88), Kante (Kovacic 32), Jorginho, Chilwell; Mount, Werner (Giroud 90+1), Pulisic.
Unused subs Kepa, Alonso, Emerson, Hudson-Odoi, Ziyech, Abraham.
Scorers Rudiger 47, Jorginho (pen) 66
Booked Azpilicueta 87, Mendy 90+1
Leicester City (3-5-2): Schmeichel (c); Castagne, Fofana, Soyuncu; Albrighton (Pereira 67), Tielemans, Ndidi; Albrighton, Perez, Maddison (Iheanacho 60); Vardy.
Unused subs Ward, Morgan, Fuchs, Mendy, Praet, Amartey, Choudhury.
Scorer Iheanacho 76
Booked Perez 32, Fofana 82, Pereira 90+4, Amartey 90+5
Referee Mike Dean