Chelsea vs Leicester: Jamie Vardy the hero to end Blues' unbeaten home record

Chelsea 0-1 Leicester: One goal was enough to end Maurizio Sarri's unblemished run at Stamford Bridge

Tom Kershaw
Stamford Bridge
Saturday 22 December 2018 18:17
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Chelsea: A look back at 2018

It was a match turned on its head as Leicester ended Chelsea’s 12-game undefeated home record at Stamford Bridge. A first half where Claude Puel’s self-mutilating tactics invited insufferable pressure onto his rhythmless side, yet after limping to survival saw that same approach pay dividend as Jamie Vardy thrashed home the game’s only goal on the counter-attack.

Vardy had aired his grievances over the under-pressure Puel’s inability to adapt his tactical approach in midweek – a snipe which became increasingly vindicated as the first-half wore on – yet ironically it was he who was its benefactor.

The Foxes emerged with little more than reckless abandon, allowing their opponents almost 80% of possession and inviting the ensuing onslaught. Of everything learned of Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea over the past few months it is that Jorginho must be hounded, hurried, even bullied off the ball to avoid the conveyer belt of attacks which took hold.

Yet there were no impediments to such a pace-setter. Jorginho and David Luiz, a creative midfielder masquerading as a centre-back, were gifted private corridors of space in which they could command the game, and set a pattern which for all destiny felt as though it could only have one conclusion.

From the opening minute of the match, a battle of attrition had begun as Willian ran beyond Harry Maguire, courtesy of Luiz’s route one ball, only to see his shot dribble past Kasper Schmeichel’s post and quickly, the Danish keeper was doubling-down on Christmas overtime. Willian’s would-be curler fell into his arms, Jorginho’s heaved half-volley was only just beaten away, and he could only look on stranded as Luiz came inches from bundling Pedro’s flick-on into the net.

It was a 45 minute cycle of relentless attack from the home side and negation of any prevalent tactic on Leicester’s behalf. In fact, the only testament to the Foxes’ approach was that Chelsea enjoying such overwhelming command of the game that Eden Hazard, forced into the false-nine position again due to Alvaro Morata’s injury, could never quite cast his own rhythm on the match.

It was he who spurned Chelsea’s best opportunity of the first-half pelt, capitalising on another mistake from Maguire, running free into the box, before clattering his close-range shot off the top of the bar, stopping in disbelief as to how he hadn’t scored.

Yet the warning signs for Sarri’s side were still apparent in rare fits and spurts from the dysfunctional Foxes. Wes Morgan’s header narrowly evaded the far corner, Wilfred Ndidi forced Kepa into a gymnastics display. But whenever James Maddison and Vardy were gifted the reprieve of a counter-attack, having seen so little of the ball, they seemed lumbered at the thought of quite what to do with it.

Vardy’s goal was enough for the Foxes

Rarely had there even been an anxious gasp at Stamford Bridge before just five minutes into the second half the improbable took over. Wilfred Ndidi galloped forward from his own box, passed to Maddison who after such a grating half of incohesion tucked the ball acutely into the path of his strike partner Vardy whose shot careered beyond the hapless Kepa.

The unlikeliest of turnarounds which heralded the Bridge’s transformation into a cauldron under red code evacuation. Chelsea lost their shape, hurtling forward in panic, the damning guilt of enjoying such a degree of domination becoming stronger as they teetered towards embarrassment.

Jorginho, uprooted from his conductor’s box, floundered on the edge of the box as the ball fell to Vardy, who with his back to goal attempted an audacious backheel only blocked by Cesar Azpilicueta’s flailing knee.

Chelsea’s unbeaten home run came to an end

Having been condemned to their own half for such long periods, Leicester couldn’t help but attack, even as their back four dropped deeper to leave acres of space between them and their adrenaline afflicted midfield. Albrighton almost added a second on a near identical breakaway to their opener, as the game ingrained into the antithetical cycle of its first.

Only one time did Chelsea breach Leicester’s impossibly resilient defence as Marcos Alonso galloped in on goal while the official raised his board to announce four minutes of added time. With the entire goal at his beckoning, the Spanish full-back dragged wide on his favoured left foot to embody the efforts of his misfiring side.

For once, Eden Hazard, the diminutive tugboat who has hauled this Chelsea side to victory in recent matches, couldn’t appease Sarri’s grudging Neapolitan dock master stare, and his teammates trudged down the tunnel wondering quite how they had been so badly outfoxed.

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