The wait is almost over. The Blues can continue our challenge at the top of the league in the earliest available time slot this weekend. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton look ahead to lunchtime in Leicester…
With the last international break of the year behind us, the focus returns to club football and league leaders Chelsea’s trip to mid-table Leicester. It will be the Blues’ third 12.30 Saturday start, with the prospect of two more to come at West Ham and Manchester City.
The Foxes have won two of their 15 Premier League fixtures in this time slot while the Londoners’ most recent lunch appointment served up a 7-0 banquet with Norwich footing the bill.
The outcome in the early slot can set the tone for the whole football weekend, lowering or raising the morale of rivals yet to play. Chelsea have now been at the pinnacle of the Premier League for seven weeks, the club’s longest period of sustained leadership since the title-winning 2016/17 season.
There is a three-point gap between the Blues and Manchester City and West Ham, whose games at home to Everton and away at Wolverhampton follow on. Liverpool, four points behind the champions of Europe, host Arsenal at Saturday teatime.
Curiously, the way the first 18 fixtures fell meant Chelsea were able to wear blue each time. The yellow change kit will be used for the first time at the King Power Stadium, where Leicester rank 12th for home league form and are winless in two matches across all competitions.
No team has gathered more top-flight points per game on the road this season than Thomas Tuchel’s side with 13 from five, but we last claimed all three points on this ground in September 2017. Two of the three visits since ended in deadlock.
Chelsea are targeting a fourth consecutive away league win with a clean sheet for the first time since December 2008.
— KEY STAT
Chelsea team news
Having played three successive bottom-three clubs, over the next four outings the Blues face three of 2020/21’s top six. The last time the rampant lion and the fox squared up was at Stamford Bridge for a 2-1 home Premier League revenge victory, just three days after the East Midlanders’ maiden FA Cup final success.
Chelsea 2-1 Leicester (H) | Premier League Highlights
Highlights from our Premier League match against Leicester in May
Chelsea’s non-internationals enjoyed a week off ahead of our hectic winter schedule: 13 fixtures across three competitions over 44 days with an average of just 2.4 days of recovery between each game.
‘December will be tough, January will be tough, and it will continue like this,’ Thomas Tuchel noted. ‘No more breaks, and we want to push the team to the limit, and that's why we use the time now to rest.’
With that in mind, we might expect the Manager of the Month for October to share the workload even though his global travellers have returned quicker than usual. When training resumed this week, numbers were bolstered by the return of Marcos Alonso, Mason Mount and Timo Werner.
Romelu Lukaku, who has netted five goals in eight league games against sides managed by Brendan Rodgers, has been training separately and may have to wait for his return after a month out.
So will the Blues line-up with a front three, or two strikers with a number 10, as against Burnley? Callum Hudson-Odoi, who stayed behind during the break, has been influential in recent games, playing alongside Kai Havertz against the Clarets with Ross Barkley behind.
Mason Mount will be looking to add to three goals and two assists in eight league outings, while Christian Pulisic continued his return to prime match sharpness by netting for the USA in their first game. Mateo Kovacic seems likely to remain sidelined, which could mean more midfield minutes for Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
There was food for thought two weeks ago as Burnley’s equaliser came after they switched to a front three to put sustained pressure on our centre-back trio. The Londoners must set aside any disappointment at drawing at home in that game despite playing some exceptional football and having 25 attempts on the Clarets’ goal.
Regular aerial supply could prove profitable on Saturday. Chelsea have nodded in four goals, the most in the top tier, and no side has conceded more headers (also four) than our lunchtime hosts, who have proved susceptible at set-plays.
Reece James has had a hand in seven top-flight goals this season, the most by any non-striker. On the other flank, Ben Chilwell will hope for better fortune than the dramatic equaliser against his old club at Wembley last season, that was denied by an incredibly tight offside VAR call.
Leicester’s inconsistency in results and performances this season can be mitigated by the number of key absentees Brendan Rodgers has had to contend with. That said, the Foxes have not actually strung three top-flight wins together since January last season, when they beat Chelsea 2-0 in this fixture – Frank Lampard’s final league game in charge.
Another factor is their inability to keep opponents off the scoresheet, managing one clean sheet in their past 17 Premier League games. The Northern Irishman has recently juggled with formations, switching to a back three in the absence of last season’s standout defender Wesley Fofana, who is still rehabilitating.
Winger Marc Albrighton is back but versatile defender James Justin is out. One of our lions of Munich, Leicester summer signing Ryan Bertrand, could also miss playing against his old club because of a knee problem.
The man who scored the only goal of the game when we met at Wembley for the FA Cup final – Youri Tielemans – will definitely be absent. The playmaking midfielder, ever-present since January 2020, suffered an ankle injury at Leeds.
Homegrown youngster Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall was the replacement during that 1-1 draw, but the attack-minded James Maddison might assume the role this weekend. Hamza Choudhury would be a more-defensive alternative if Rodgers decides to stick with his preferred 4-3-3.
Upfront, summer arrival Patson Daka is providing competition for Kelechi Iheanacho and 34-year-old Jamie Vardy in the striker’s role. Rodgers may select one of them between a pair of wide-forwards who are happy to harass defenders and track back defensively.
A potentially decisive battleground will be which side’s offensive players press most successfully. The hosts have cracked off more shots (20) after winning possession high upfield than any rival this season. However, they also lead the way in being caught out in that fashion, with 23 shots on their goal. Chelsea have faced seven attempts after high ‘turnovers’ – the fewest in the top flight.
Blessing, not a curse
Thomas Tuchel steered the Blues to four straight league wins in October to scoop his second Manager of the Month award at Chelsea. He is our seventh recipient, the previous six being Frank Lampard, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant and Claudio Ranieri.
Of course the announcement prompts a flurry about the award being a ‘curse’. Okay, perhaps sorcery (as much as Thiago Silva’s dismissal) explains how the Bavarian’s previous honour for March 2021 was met with a shock 2-5 reverse at home to West Bromwich.
But that is the only setback experienced by a recent Chelsea award-winner. In 2019 Frank Lampard’s side beat Palace 2-0, and Antonio Conte managed wins after being named three months running in 2016. The last of those – a comprehensive 3-0 victory away to Leicester – should allay irrational fears this weekend.
|Carlo Ancelotti||4||Nov 2009, Aug 2010, Mar, Apr 2011|
|Antonio Conte||3||Oct, Nov, Dec 2016|
|José Mourinho||3||Nov 2004, Jan 2005, Mar 2007|
|Thomas Tuchel||2||Mar, Oct 2021|
|Claudio Ranieri||2||Sep 2003, Mar 2004|
|Frank Lampard||1||Oct 2019|
|Avram Grant||1||Apr 2008|
Foxes out of the hunt?
Last time this fixture was played, in January, Leicester’s 2-0 victory put them top of the table. Their current points tally of 15 is their lowest at this juncture since 2017, and they are 12th in the standings, seven shy of fourth.
Following the draw against Burnley the Blues’ start to the campaign is now identical to 2008/09, even down to goals for and against. We finished third that season, won the FA Cup, and were controversially denied a return to the Champions League final.
Travellers return earlier
The third and final international break of the year just finished is the shortest, featuring two matches rather than three. France’s N’Golo Kante was winging back to Cobham from Finland on Tuesday, but our ‘Great Dane’ Andreas Christensen, Jorginho, and England boys Ben Chilwell and Reece James have had since late Monday night to rest and prepare for Saturday’s early start.
Kai Havertz and Antonio Rudiger wrapped things up in Armenia with Germany as early as Sunday, as did Edou Mendy in Senegal and Cesar Azpilicueta in Spain. The last Brazil game of 2021 for Thiago Silva in Argentina concluded in the early hours of Wednesday morning UK time, although he did not play.
Juventus are in London on Tuesday for the showdown match of Group H. On Saturday evening they are the guests of Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio and may be without in-form Argentina star Dybala (who netted twice in the Old Lady’s 4-2 beating of Zenit) as well as winger Bernadeschi, and defenders Chiellini and Di Sciglio.
Matchweek 12 Premier League fixtures
Leicester v Chelsea 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Aston Villa v Brighton 3pm
Burnley v Crystal Palace 3pm
Newcastle v Brentford 3pm
Norwich v Southampton 3pm
Watford v Man Utd 3pm
Wolves v West Ham 3pm
Liverpool v Arsenal 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
Man City v Everton 2pm (Sky Sports)
Tottenham v Leeds 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
|3||West Ham United||11||7||2||2||23||13||10||23|