Hosting the reigning champions has previously been a dreaded task for many teams, but Leicester’s recent form meant Chelsea would have been confident going in to Saturday’s early kick off.
However, Conte’s men haven’t exactly hit the ground running this season, but a convincing 3-0 win gave them the confidence boost they needed to get their season kickstarted.
Diego Costa gave the hosts an early lead after dreadful, uncharacteristic Leicester defending, before Hazard pounced to double their lead on the half hour mark and Victor Moses linked up with Nathan Chalobah to net their third.
We might only be eight games in, but Leicester are on the way to the worst title defence in Premier League history. Here’s five things we learned from their dismal display at Stamford Bridge.
Amartey hasn’t replaced Kante
Despite Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez both remaining true to their colours, N’Golo Kante took the decision to leave the King Power and venture to West London. The Frenchman was key to Leicester’s shock title win, but after receiving around £32million for him, the Foxes only splashed £6million on replacement Daniel Amartey.
Amartey struggled to deal with the ex-Leicester man all day.
Kante was key to Chelsea’s victory. Not only did he fulfil his typical deep-lying role – breaking up play and starting attacks from the back – he took the opportunity to go forward to help Costa and co., with Serbian team-mate Nemanja Matic covering. Although he didn’t register an assist, a counter-attacking pass to Moses and a sensational chipped pass over the top of the Leicester defence certainly stood out.
He completed 75 of 86 attempted passes, the second most on the field, and currently sits fifth in the season standings for most passes in the Premier League. In comparison, Ghanaian midfielder Amartey only managed 50, and most of them were sideways and Leicester’s attacking impetus suffered as a consequence.
Hazard and Costa partnership
Both Diego Costa and Eden Hazard failed to hit the heights last season, which led to José Mourinho’s dismissal, Guus Hiddink’s brief stay and Chelsea’s miserable season. Under Antonio Conte, things are very different.
A three-at-the-back system has rarely worked in the fast paced Premier League, but after deploying the same shape at Euro 2016, Conte has managed to get it working for Chelsea and Costa and Hazard are reaping the benefits. The Belgian is no longer required to cover defensively with Moses and Marcos Alonso being deployed as high intensity wing-backs, and Costa is giving a free-roaming role with Hazard and Pedro filling in up top.
Diego Costa hassled Wes Morgan and Robert Huth all afternoon.
They were both on the scoresheet against the Foxes, and both seem to have found their form. Hazard attempted four take ons and completed them all, and seemed to step up a gear from this stage last year. His electric pace on the ball has returned, and defences haven’t been able to handle it of late. Meanwhile Costa continued his goalscoring form, topping the League with seven so far this campaign.
David Luiz matured
So many people questioned Chelsea’s decision to bring David Luiz back to the Bridge. They sold him for £50million, and it seemed questionable to bring him back four years later for a £32million fee when he was arguably a worse player. But that simply isn’t the case.
Luiz left London as a raw, flamboyant and unreliable defender. It seemed his future was as a central midfielder, because he simply loved being on the ball too much to be a man at the back. But back in the blue of Chelsea and a new squad number, he’s a new man.
Conte’s set-up sees the Brazilian deployed at the centre of a back three, and yesterday had Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta either side of him. He did everything that was asked of him – clearing six times, blocking a goal-bound shot and completing 34 forward passes to help Chelsea get back on the front foot. Chelsea not only got £18million for Luiz to spend four years in Paris, but he’s returned as a matured, more reliable defender.
David Luiz has become a leading figure in Chelsea’s back line since returning.
Victor Moses moved from Wigan Athletic to Chelsea in 2012 for a fee of £9m but has since failed to nail a first-team role under a wealth of different managers. Conte looks to be a big fan though, and after sending Juan Cuadrado on a mind-boggling 3-year loan deal to Juventus, Moses has his chance.
But his loan experience was crucial, totalling 71 appearances for three different Premier League clubs in Liverpool, Stoke and West Ham. But he returned to Stamford Bridge and has found himself in a very different role – a wing back. Conte’s insistence on a three man defence has given the former Wigan man a lifeline. Ivanovic simply isn’t athletic enough to spend 90 minutes racing up and down the touchline, while Olaoluwa Aina is only just finding his feet at senior level.
Leicester were all over the place on Saturday, and looking at the pitch it was tough to see who was meant to be playing where. Vardy was stranded up front on his own, whereas Musa was meant to be accompanying him, and wingers were constantly forced in to central midfield to contain a dominant Kante. Schlupp, Moses’ intended opponent, was nowhere to be seen and it gave the Nigerian a license to press forward, and eventually got his name on the scoresheet after neat play with Chalobah.
Moses shows his allegiance to the badge after finally finding his feet at Chelsea.
Moses was often left out in the cold by Roberto di Matteo, Rafael Benitez, Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink, but Conte has faith in him and he is certainly prospering.
Despite Leicester’s shoddy showing, Drinkwater has a shining beacon in Leicester’s dimly lit season. He too, along with Vardy and Mahrez, chose to stay on the Foxes, and will be as – if not more – crucial than those two if Leicester are to kick on from here.
The former Manchester United player was the only player to out-pass former teammate Kante, amassing 87 completed passes, but a poor showing in front of him from Ahmed Musa and Vardy meant Leicester failed to threaten the hosts.
Their struggling season could be blamed on Leicester’s new found setting in the Champions League, but they’re impeccable start to that competition has shown they are still capable of solid performances and grinding out results.
Drinkwater will be key if Leicester are to fight their way back up the table.
Ranieri made a number of strange decisions today which most certainly didn’t help. Mahrez and record-signing Islam Slimani were both left on the bench until the 70th minute, and Demarai Gray never got a look in despite a few fine showings before the international break.
After a Champions League outing midweek, last season’s Premier League winners host Crystal Palace, Spurs and West Brom. So far they’ve average a point a game, but Ranieri will be hoping for at least two wins from those next three games if they’re to push on and climb up the table.