Beating Leicester Means More Than Three Points for Chelsea


Chelsea continued their strong start to the season on Saturday, beating Leicester 2-0. While it is always good to get the three points out of a game, and even more so in early season fixtures, this win had deeper meaning for the Blues.

The game showed that they could bounce back from a weak first half; that they could break down a stout and resolute defense. Even though it took Chelsea a hour to open the score, the Blues showed something against Leicester that all champions must show: the ability to rain fire on opponents for 15-20 minutes, then withdraw and defend solidly.

The Blues were unconvincing in the first half, failing to break down Leicester. The starting XI was the same that beat Burnley 3-1, but this time in a 4-3-3 instead of a 4-2-3-1. For most of the opening 45, Chelsea played in front of the Leicester back line, with Andre Schurrle making only occasional runs behind the defense. This led to 9 shots in the first half; however, none were on target, and only two were even taken from inside the box.

Leicester’s stout back line was helped by the fact that Chelsea was doing little inside the box. They were never challenged by runs behind them, and even Eden Hazard only made occasional appearances, including a few runs along the edge of the box. Leicester made several dangerous counter attacks of their own, but Thibaut Courtois was never truly tested.

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The game got serious in the second half. Mourinho clearly fired Chelsea up at the break, and they came out roaring. Branislav Ivanovic justified his place in the XI by taking a header that nearly slipped past Kasper Schmeichel, the son of legendary goalkeeper Peter, and a shot that required a great save.

This was the response of champions: despite having a weak first half, Chelsea was going to come out, bury Leicester in a short, 20 minute burst of goals, and then coast out the rest of the game. But as the game approached the 60th minute, there was just one problem: Leicester were holding their own.

Leicester played great against Everton last week, earning a 2-2 draw. This week they were standing up to the leaders of the Premier League, a team everyone pegged to be future champions. They weren’t just playing great defense, they were playing great offense as well. Several times in the first 15 of the second half, the Foxes had dangerous breakaways. Thibaut Courtois proved Mourinho right in picking him as Chelsea’s goalkeeper, making 2 amazing saves from David Nugent shots.

This was the sort of game that killed Chelsea last year. Against Norwich, Sunderland, West Ham, West Brom, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace, the Blues couldn’t break down teams that put 10 or 11 men behind the ball, and had to settle for draws, or, against Sunderland, Villa and Palace, a loss. Those games cost the Blues the title, and Leicester looked like they were headed down that path.

Diego Costa got his second Premier League goal in as many games on Saturday. He looks like the goal scorer that Chelsea didn’t have, but so badly needed, last season.

But finally,just after the hour mark, Diego Costa broke the deadlock. Branislav Ivanovic’s run into the right side had set up the Spanish striker. Ivanovic crossed the ball into the danger zone, where Costa took the ball on the chest. It came off hard, and just as it looked like the chance would be lost, and Schmeichel was going to pick up the loose ball, Costa streched out a foot, and knocked the ball past the Danish keeper, and into the net.

Stamford Bridge breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, the team got over the hill; they overcame the deamons, got the monkey off their back. Eden Hazard added a second goal in the 77th minute, killing the game off. Chelsea remained in good form, and remained unbeaten.

Eden Hazard secured all three points for Chelsea with his goal in the 77th minute. It was a brilliant piece of individual skill.

Bottom Line:

  • Thibaut Courtois: This game proved that Thibaut Courtois is the man to wear Chelsea’s goalkeeper shirt. His important saves early in the second half kept Chelsea in the game, especially when Leicester looked strong on the counter. But his impact went beyond making big saves; he has an air about him, a demeanor, that just radiates confidence. He pulled crosses out of the air before they could reach their targets, and quickly distributed the ball out to one of the midfielders, starting a Chelsea attack. When Chelsea’s defense was too narrow, or had made a mistake that led to a Leicester chance, Courtois never broke face. He had a look of experience, confidence and calm. Though Petr Cech will always be loved, his replacement has come.

Petr Cech (left) and Thibaut Courtois (right) had been the center of a debate that had raged all summer: which player would be Chelsea’s goalkeeper. Courtois ended all doubt over the job, following his amazing performance against Leicester.

  • Chelsea defeat the little guy: These games cost Cheslea the title last season. The losses at home to Sunderland, and at Crystal Palace and Aston Villa, as well as draws with West Brom, West Ham and Norwich (all at home), killed the Blues. This season, Chelsea started off against two newly promoted teams, one on the road, in an environment where the team had the support of raucous and loud fans, and the other against a solid, disciplined side. Both games could have ended in disaster for Chelsea. But this year’s team is different; they, despite taking heavy pressure, defeated those teams, and fairly convincingly. This is what Chelsea need to do to win the title. Mourinho will prepare them for the big games, so those aren’t the ones Chelsea need to worry about; its the little ones, against Burnley, Leicester, Sunderland, QPR and others. Those games will kill them.