A modern twist on an old rivalry, to also revitalise Chelsea’s title challenge. Jorginho secured a 3-2 victory over Leeds United in stoppage time but only after three VAR interventions, a lot of ferocious challenges, constant back-and-forth between the players and supporters, a stoppage-time penalty and a big flare-up to finish.
Within all that, Thomas Tuchel – as well as the home supporters – surely had visions of a familiar Chelsea crisis, as they could have gone another game without a win to leave themselves four points behind Manchester City.
They are instead still there in the title race, after a 2021 reboot of old rancour. Old stalwarts such as John Giles and Ron Harris might have only been irritated at the manner of the key decision, as a penalty was given for the softest of touches from Mateusz Klich on Antonio Rudiger. They might have chuckled at the way the defender got himself right at the heart of it at the very end of the game, too, after Junior Firpo and Kai Havertz had squared up to each other.
Chelsea ultimately felt the satisfaction and relief of victory, but the game was filled with increasingly frequent moments of panic and anxiety – not least in defence.
It was not just fitting that the match was characterised and decided by tackles, but instructive.
On another day, one or two players could have been sent off, even if Leeds might complain another referee wouldn’t have given Jorginho’s penalty.
There was little doubt about their own penalty, it must be said. There were just growing doubts about Chelsea’s title challenge. That’s what made this response, and their display of resolve, all the more important.
Bielsa had done a good job of subduing Chelsea’s attack by pinning markers to the wing-backs, and the European champions had barely created anything in the first half-hour. They just couldn’t get at Leeds.
Some of that frustration was perhaps revealed in Marcos Alonso’s hack on Dan James, which gave Chris Kavanagh no option but to award the penalty. Raphinha stepped up, stuttered his run and ensured Edouard Mendy was left flat-footed as he knocked the ball to the side of him. If only the Brazilian had been a bit cooler later on.
There was another moment’s panic at Stamford Bridge, as they faced up to what might have been the beginning of a crisis, but the players dug in. They also got stuck in.
Alonso seemed fired up by the penalty, and some of the chants from the Leeds supporters. It was his own fearsome challenge on Stuart Dallas that finally got things going. That is why it was indicative.
It illustrated that they still required a transition, a break in play. Chelsea didn’t open Leeds up through craft alone.
That has been a recurring issue.
It was of no concern for their players in the moment, though. Alonso squared for Mason Mount, and both turned to the Leeds fans directly behind that goal with shushing gestures.
Chelsea were immediately a bit more imposing. This was the sort of response Tuchel would have wanted, which made what followed all the more pointed.
The German had in midweek criticised how Chelsea became a different team after going ahead. There was a similar drop-off here, which was all the more surprising given how they had been given a reprieve.
With Chelsea once more struggling to get through Leeds in open play, Rudiger went forward and surged into the box.
Raphinha seemed to be able to win the ball, but still swung his trailing leg around in a rash motion. Rudiger went down, Kavanagh went to the VAR screen, and Jorginho went forward. The midfielder sent Illan Meslier the wrong way, to seemingly put Chelsea back on the right track.
There is still something off with this team, though.
They are not creating that much, but aren’t locking up in the way they used to. The return of Rudiger did not bring more solidity.
Some of that was also down to Leeds, of course. They kept going, kept making it uncomfortable for Chelsea.
Bielsa threw Joe Gelhardt on, setting the pace anew. The Chelsea defence couldn’t seem to keep up with him, as he stole in to make it 2-2 with his first touch in the 83rd minute.
That could well have finished the game, as well as Chelsea’s title challenge.
Tuchel’s side still had more to give, though, and Kavanagh had another penalty to give.
Amid such fury, the most relevant detail was that Jorginho again kept his cool. It just about kept Chelsea up there with Liverpool and City.
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