Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side beat Premier League new boys Leicester City 2-0 at Stamford Bridge yesterday thanks to goals from Diego Costa and Eden Hazard.
Costa, a summer signing from La Liga champions Athletico Madrid, opened the scoring on 63 minutes after some neat build up play between Branislav Ivanovic and Oscar ended with the former’s cross chested down and dispatched by the £32m Brazilian-come-Spaniard, despite Kasper Schmeichel’s best efforts.
Chelsea doubled their lead in the 77th minute as Eden Hazard drifted in the from the left unchallenged and his deflected drive was diverted too much for Danish keeper Schmeichel to save.
Nigel Pearson’s men lined up in their usual 4-4-2 formation with two changes from last week’s home draw to Everton with Danny Drinkwater (hamstring) replaced by Dean Hammond in the middle and Jeffrey Schlupp started in place of Frenchman Anthony Knockaert.
The first half was quite a dull affair as Leicester, sporting their new red away kit, matched the pre-season title favourites with very few chances for both teams. Neither Thibaut Courtois nor Kasper Schmeichel were tested, the latter almost paying a heavy price for a pathetic flap from a Chelsea corner.
Leicester’s solitary World Cup player, Riyad Mahrez, couldn’t wriggle his way past Chelsea’s rigid defence and when City were able to force a corner, his set-pieces were terrible, each time failing to beat the first man.
As half-time approached, the Foxes’ faithful remained in very good song, continuously chanting and signing to support their beloved team. The same cannot be said for the home fans who were, in all honestly, dire – they didn’t sing a single song all afternoon and showed very little support for the Blues.
After a relatively tame first half, the second half was a complete contrast with lots of action from the outset – early on in the half Chelsea were denied the lead by the base of the far post after Oscar curled an effort beyond the diving Schmeichel and in the follow up the Danish keeper was equal to Ivanovic’s strong header.
On 51 minutes though, after a good spell for the home side, Leicester were knocking at Chelsea’s door with a break from midfield ended by Courtois stopping David Nugent’s effort with his foot before a counter attack down the left almost resulted in a goal for Mourinho’s men but Andre Schurrle’s curling effort went over the bar.
Moments later, a poor header from Paul Konchesky allowed Chelsea to attack and after some good football, Serbian defender Ivanovic hit a sweet powerful strike but once again Leicester’s number one was equal to it. City countered and Mahrez played in Nugent for the East Midlands side’s biggest chance of the match – the striker was one-on-one with Belgian Courtois but lacked the composure to finish and give Leicester the lead, with Petr Cech’s replacement making a match-defining save. It was a huge chance and one that needs to be taken at this level, or else City will struggle this season.
Cesc Fabregas almost gave Chelsea the lead but Schmeichel refused to be out-foxed by the Spaniard, who tried to chip the ball over the Danish international. But on 63 minutes, the Foxes were left to rue Nugent’s miss as Ivanovic, slipped in down the right by Oscar, cut inside Liam Moore and Jeffrey Schlupp before crossing the ball to Costa. The striker expertly chested the ball away from the City defence and fired past the jumping Schmeichel and Ritchie De Laet on the line, scoring his second goal in as many games in his first Premier League campaign.
A flurry of changes saw Brazilians Willian and Ramires replaced fellow countryman Oscar (to chants of “7-1” from the Leicester fans) and the largely ineffective Schurrle for Chelsea as well as new signing Marc Albrighton and Gary Taylor-Fletcher replacing Mahrez and Hammond for the away side.
Chelsea then doubled their lead in the 77th minute as Eden Hazard was given far too much room and cut inside. His drive would surely not have troubled Kasper Schmeichel in the City net if it weren’t for a slight diversion off Leicester captain Wes Morgan’s toe. This goal sealed the points for the home side and there was not enough time for Leicester to come back from a two goal deficit.
The third time the Chelsea fans made some noise was a few minutes after the second goal when goal scorer Diego Costa was replaced by returning legend Didier Drogba – a standing ovation for the Ivorian who scored 100 goals in his first spell at the club, lasting eight years and 226 appearances.
Leicester had a few tame efforts either side of Chris Wood’s substitute appearance, replacing £8m record-signing Leo Ulloa who was disappointing after last week’s heroics. Willian almost made it 3-0 with a superb turn in midfield, leaving Taylor-Fletcher for dead, before a surging run ended with a rasping long range effort, tipped over by Schmeichel.
As the full-time whistle blew, the Foxes’ support remained in full voice despite the defeat and clapped their determined team off the field. The 41,604 in attendance were treated to a pulsating second half with Leicester more than capable of taking many positives from the game. From City’s point of view, they will feel unlucky not to have taken anything from the game in terms of points because for the first hour, it was extremely difficult to distinguish between last season’s Championship winners and the 2012 Champions League winners. But at the end of the day, Chelsea’s class and experience both on the pitch and in the technical area proved slightly too much for an inexperienced, yet mightily impressive, Leicester side who will be keen to bounce back next week at the King Power Stadium against Arsenal in front of the Sky cameras.
After the game Leicester boss Nigel Pearson was very pleased with Leicester’s performance and said, “I’m disappointed because we’ve lost the game. There are more positives than negatives to take from it – we played exceptionally well in the first half but unfortunately it’s about taking your chances when you get them and we were unable to do that.”
Meanwhile, his Portuguese counterpart Jose Mourinho explained that he was happy about the second half performance but the first 45 was not good enough, but that this is excusable at this early stage in the season.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Courtois – 9, two big saves to deny Nugent at 0-0 and commanded his area excellently; Ivanovic – 8, did very well in both defence and attack, assisting Costa and had two good efforts saved; Terry – 7, Mr. Reliable once again; Cahill – 7, just like Terry, solid throughout; Azpilicueta – 7, defensively sound and forced Mahrez to track back a lot; Matic – 6, strong in midfield but nothing special; Fabregas – 8, played well, some nice link up play and another assist; Schurrle – 7, largely ineffective, one close effort curled harmlessly over; Oscar – 8, looked bright throughout and always a threat; Hazard – 9, very bright causing De Laet problems throughout and deserved a goal; Costa – 8, good movement and link up play and took his goal well. Subs: Ramires – 6, did very little; Willian – 7, couple of flashes including late burst; Drogba – 6, again no impact.
Leicester (4-4-2): Schmeichel – 8, some top saves and little chance with either goal; De Laet – 6, not his best performance for City, couldn’t attack as freely as normal; Morgan – 7, solid and strong at the back and not at fault for goal despite deflection; Moore – 8, again very solid and handled the occasion well, looking composed throughout; Konchesky – 7, a decent game nothing special; Mahrez – 7, flashes of flair but lacked conviction in final third; King – 8; a good performance in midfield, did well; Hammond – 9, very impressive with King, strong tackling but unfortunately came off injured; Schlupp – 7, some nice play but again offered little threat; Ulloa – 6, poor game, did very little at all; Nugent – 6, poor game, blew his one golden opportunity which could have changed the game. Subs: Albrighton – 6, little impact but some decent play; Taylor-Fletcher – 6, some nice touches but done for pace in midfield; Wood – N/A.