Thursday, 15 March 2018

Leicester City vs Chelsea Match Preview (18/03/18): Blues Need to Recapture Magic of the Cup

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Now that we’re out of the Champions League and struggling for a top four finish in the Premier League, the FA Cup takes on added significance for Chelsea and principally Antonio Conte.

Of course, it is important to remain positive, and there is still every chance of us finishing inside the top four with a number of definitive matches – including the contest with Tottenham on April 1 – still to come.

But as far as silverware goes, the FA Cup is clearly our only opportunity to get our hands on a trophy, and we suspect that Conte will not take that lightly.

It was at roughly this point in the competition 12 months ago that he jettisoned the fringe players and kids that had gotten him to the latter stages and started fielding the big boys instead, and ultimately that was an approach that got us to the final.

You just hope that there isn’t a hangover from our Barcelona jaunt in midweek, both physically and mentally. With an extra 24 hours to recover ahead of Sunday’s game, you would hope that the physical condition of the players was good.

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Mentally, well, there may be some scars. The 0-3 scoreline in Catalonia was a little harsh, and we certainly weren’t overwhelmed by Messi and co. Indeed, the three goals conceded came from individual errors rather than being outclassed, with Courtois, Azpilicueta and Fabregas all guilty to a great or lesser extent.

Hopefully, Conte can refocus the players on the matter in hand: a top four finish, and winning the FA Cup, would not be a disaster of a season by any means.

Chelsea Team News

Sunday’s clash with Leicester is the last time we will see the boys in blue for a while due to the international break, and for that reason we hope that Conte fields as strong a side as possible here.

He will presumably go with the usual back five, with Antonio Rudiger’s extra pace compared to Gary Cahill essential in combatting Jamie Vardy.

In midfield it’s possible Tiemoue Bakayoko will partner Leicester old boy N’Golo Kante. Bakayoko won’t feature for France during the internationals and badly needs game time, and so a start here ticks many boxes. Another former Foxes man, Danny Drinkwater, is on hand if necessary.

Willian is in fine form, Eden Hazard is undroppable, and so the only question left for Conte to answer is the identity of who plays through the middle. Olivier Giroud was a tad disappointing in Barcelona, being subbed off after an hour or so, and so perhaps the manager will unleash Alvaro Morata on Sunday. He has a lot to prove in a blue shirt.

Leicester City vs Chelsea Head to Head

Chelsea and Leicester have been meeting on and off since the early 1900s, and many older fans will remember some of the pulsating clashes of the 1960s and 70s.

In the modern era, it’s only really since the 2014/15 campaign that we have been meeting regularly. In that time, our record against the Foxes has been excellent: W6 D2 L1.

Other than a defeat in Leicester’s title winning campaign, we have a decent record at the King Power Stadium too: W4 D0 L1, including three wins on the spin. The last came courtesy of a 2-1 victory in the East Midlands back in September.

How the Match Will Be Won

It’s not a criticism as such, but it’s fair to say that Leicester are one of the more predictable teams in the Premier League.

They will look to ping balls into the channels for Jamie Vardy to chase, and the good news from our perspective is that playing three centre halves helps to combat that somewhat.

The Foxes’ other outlet comes in the form of Riyad Mahrez, the fleet-footed winger who has made a career out of cutting inside from the right flank onto his stronger left foot. Just because its predictable, doesn’t means it’s easy to stop.

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Otherwise, Leicester will defend deep with two sitting midfielders in front of the back four, and that makes them hard to break down.

Another factor is their home support, which whips up a frenzied atmosphere in the right conditions. They will do so here, and it will be up to us to pop their optimism by squeezing the life out of the game in the first 15 minutes.

If we can keep things tight early on, our greater quality will surely show over the course of 90 minutes.

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