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. […]
Crystal Palace visited Stamford Bridge for the late EPL kick-off, in Chelsea’s sixth derby in the league this season. Chelsea’s record against their London neighbours in 2017/18 didn’t make good reading: one win against Tottenham at Wembley, two draws home and away to Arsenal, and two disappointing defeats away to West Ham and Crystal Palace.
Chelsea also needed to break another bad streak – they’d lost four of their last five league games against Bournemouth, Watford, Manchester United and Manchester City, only managing a win against bottom club West Bromwich Albion. That was just three points from a possible fifteen. They were now a full five points adrift of a Champions League qualification place.
Palace had their own troubles – they were fighting (and losing) a relegation battle. Recent form was poor; two draws against Newcastle United and West Ham in their last five league games, two points from fifteen. Similar form to Chelsea in fact.
They did have a habit of raising their game against their West London hosts though: Crystal Palace won their last three fixtures against Chelsea. And they’d only narrowly lost their last two games against Tottenham and Manchester United, 1-0 and 3-2 respectively. […]
With the exception of a 3 – 0 win when Huddersfield defended deep and let them play, every time Chelsea have used Eden Hazard as a striker this season, they’ve struggled to attack effectively, either scoring just one goal or none at all.
Today was no different: Chelsea did not register a single shot on target the entire game.
Manchester City had shown against weaker opposition (Burnley and Wigan Athletic) that they could be breached, but with both their center forwards warming the bench, Chelsea were simply not set up to take advantage.
Even more worrying though, was a heads-down attitude and lack of application from some Chelsea players at certain moments in the game. […]
The media narrative in the run up to this game was a lot Mourinho versus Conte. Or Lukaku versus Morata, Sanchez versus Hazard, de Gea versus Courtois, but the managers showed during the game that they’d put their feuding behind them now.
At the end, the game wasn’t decided so much by individual battles, but by the team that was most committed, that wanted it more. The visitors were brutally punished for errors of concentration in defence, especially as both halves wore on. United delivered some pretty tough lessons to a Chelsea team in transition, but lessons they will have to learn nevertheless. […]
The stats showed Barcelona had 73% of possession by the end of the game, but Chelsea had more (and better quality) chances – eleven shots to Barcelona’s seven, with two shots on target for each team. So did Messi & Co. starve Chelsea of possession, or was Conte’s team content to let them have the ball in non-threatening areas?
Willian was the man of the match in the Chelsea’s last game, and he was on fire tonight as well. He put the fear of God in the Barcelona defence, hit the post twice, could have had a hat trick.
Messi played well, but at the end he was limited to poaching an opportunistic goal off a defensive error. Barcelona have the advantage of an away goal going into the second leg, but the tie remains open, with a full ninety minutes to go. […]
Chelsea looked a completely different team from their games against Watford and Bournemouth. It might have been the result of having a target man to focus their attacking play, bring others into the game and draw the defence away from their wide forwards. Or maybe it was the time off Conte gave his players midweek, or the quality of the opposition. Or a combination of all three.
They took the points and leap-frogged Spurs to fourth, one point behind Liverpool in third, three points behind Manchester United; West Bromwich Albion remained pinned to the bottom of the table.
Next up for Chelsea, two big cup games in eight days: Hull City in the FA Cup fifth round, and FC Barcelona in the Champions League. […]
In tonight’s program notes, Roman Abramovich invited Chelsea fans to join him in taking a stand for inclusion and diversity, and saying no to Anti-Semitism. Many supporters will choose to remember the occasion for Roman’s words and leadership – they definitely will not want to think about the football.
Bournemouth took Chelsea apart with deliberate, surgical skill, and frankly, the home team never looked like scoring. Yes, there were mitigating circumstances, and the players let their manager down really. But a three-nil home defeat to a smaller club ten places down the log is always hard to explain. Hopefully, Chelsea don’t find themselves less one title winning manager in the next few weeks. […]