Sunday 18th March, King Power Stadium – Chelsea made a quick return to action against Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals. Just four days had passed since their demoralizing 3 – 0 loss to Barcelona in the Champions League.
Chelsea had reached the FA Cup quarter-finals after home wins against two Premier League sides: Hull City (4 – 0) and Newcastle United (3 – 0). Before that, they’d struggled mightily to overcome Norwich City on penalties, after a slightly vindictive refereeing performance in the third round replay.
Claude Puel’s side had dealt quietly and competently with Sheffield United (1 – 0), Peterborough United (5 – 1) and Fleetwood Town (2 – 0 in the replay after a goalless game at Highbury).
Nigerian international Kelechi Iheanacho was City’s hero in this competition, having scored four goals against Fleetwood and Peterborough.
Antonio Conte made four changes to the team that started at Camp Nou: Willy Caballero came in for Thibaut Courtois, after the Belgian’s entertaining double-nutmeg performance against the Catalan side. Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata replaced Cesc Fabregas and Olivier Giroud in midfield and attack.
Kelechi Iheanacho started alongside Jamie Vardy, who’d scored Leicester’s only goal against Sheffield United. Marc Albrighton was also selected ahead of Demarai Gray on the left wing.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Schmeichel 6.5, Chilwell 7, Maguire 6, Morgan 7, Simpson 7 (Diabate 6.5), Albrighton 7 (Gray 5), Ndidi 6.5, Iborra 7 (Silva 5.5), Mahrez 7.5, Iheanacho 6 (Okazaki 6), Vardy 7.5
Subs Hamer, Dragovic, Gray, Silva, Fuchs, Diabate, Okazaki
Caballero 7.5, Moses 6, Azpilicueta 7, Christensen 7.5 (Cahill 6), Rudiger 8, Alonso 6.5, Kante 8.5, Bakayoko 5 (Fabregas 6), Willian 8 (Pedro 8), Hazard 6, Morata 8 (Giroud 6)
Subs Eduardo, Zappacosta, Cahill, Emerson, Fabregas, Pedro, Giroud
Back In The Goals
The Chelsea players (and Hazard especially), seemed to pace themselves a bit in the first half, perhaps resting in possession to minimize the impact of their tough midweek game.
They also made a number of errors throughout the game as Caballero, Morata and Bakayoko tried to settle into the rhythm of play, but frankly their opponents today lacked the quality to take advantage.
Leicester had the first chance two minutes in: Danny Simpson got past Marcos Alonso to swing a cross into box, but Marc Albrighton’s volley was just off target.
Wes Morgan headed a Riyad Mahrez corner just wide of the far post under pressure from Antonio Rudiger.
Simpson set up Wilfred Ndidi to take a shot from thirty yards out. It was bending away from Caballero, and the goalkeeper did very well to parry and then hold the ball.
Alonso put a beautiful cross right into the D, and Morata had time and space to control the ball before firing it in, but he hit it straight at Kasper Schmeichel – the keeper barely had to move to save the shot.
It looked like it might be a scoreless first half… until the 41st minute, when Chelsea countered a Leicester counterattack, and Morata scored his first goal since Boxing Day.
Iheanacho had possession and was steaming up the pitch. He passed right to Mahrez, but the Algerian got dispossessed by Marcos Alonso. The ball went to Kante and then Willian, who spotted the chance and engaged afterburners, racing past Ben Chilwell and Wilfred Ndidi.
Willian then slipped the perfect through ball past Morgan, Simpson and Harry Maguire to Morata, who shaped his body, then curled a finish right of Schmeichel for 1 – 0.
It’s Rarely A Good Tactic
Bakayoko took a brief break from giving away possession to pick up a yellow card for fouling Iheanacho, and Cesc Fabregas replaced him after half time.
Chelsea seemed to be trying to run the clock down for a 1 – 0 win, but that’s rarely a good tactic, especially away from home. Leicester grew in confidence and eventually scored an equalizer fourteen minutes from full time.
Mahrez put a cross in from the right wing; it got a slight deflection off Alonso before falling for Jamie Vardy just outside the six-yard box. The Chelsea defence did their best to prevent the goal, but they just could not get the ball out of the box.
First Christensen blocked Vardy’s shot, then Azpilicueta blocked from Vicente Iborra. Iborra got to the rebound and shot again, but Caballero saved from point blank range. Vardy hit it one more time, and although Caballero got a hand to it, he couldn’t stop the shot from going in 1 – 1.
Chilwell put another cross in from the left wing, but this time it was just beyond Shinji Okazaki, who might have scored the winner if he reached the ball.
Kante to Pedro
Neither side could win it in normal time, and the game trailed over into extra time.
On 105 minutes, N’golo Kante curled a cross into the box – it was perfectly placed between the defence and the keeper. Schmeichel came out to punch it and Morgan and Maguire hung back, but Pedro managed to reach the ball before him, glancing it left of the keeper for 2 – 1.
Antonio Rudiger managed to block a Fousseni Diabate shot late on, and Chelsea held on for the win.
This was one of those games where individual quality made the difference. N’golo Kante had been excellent all game, perhaps because he was playing his former club. Where other players tired, he kept pushing and pushing until he forced a breakthrough… and helped recover a measure of self-respect for the visiting side.
Chelsea also got a favourable draw for the semi-finals; they will play Southampton at home, while Manchester United will host Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford.
The FA Cup is the last chance for silverware this season for the three English teams that got dumped out in the Champions League round of 16.
Next up in the league for Chelsea, Spurs (and the London is Blue crew) visit the Bridge on April Fool’s Day.
Final Score Leicester City 1 – 2 Chelsea (AET)
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Evening Standard
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