Chelsea 1-1 Leicester: 16 Conclusions

Date published: Sunday 18th August 2019 8:03

1) Eight months after winning at Stamford Bridge, Leicester returned emboldened by that result but aware that the public perception of them has changed. Brendan Rodgers has arrived to guide one of the most talented group of players in the country and with that comes expectation.

Ordinarily, a visit to Chelsea in August would be no kind of context, but Frank Lampard’s side are very much a work in progress. If Leicester are a credible threat to the top six, which should be their aim, then these are the days on which to prove that that’s built on something more than Rodgers’ frothy optimism.

 

2) Chelsea’s objective was simpler. Lampard could legitimately claim positives from that defeat to Manchester United and many more from the Super Cup on Wednesday night. But while it’s accepted that the club are now between eras and that this transition to something more organic will take time, the native expectations have been tempered rather than changed entirely. Leicester at home is a match to win and so, for Lampard, this was the first game with real pressure.

 

3) With that in mind, his selection of Mason Mount was significant. How refreshing to see a Chelsea head coach not just give cursory minutes to a young player, but to actually offer a proper opportunity. Mount will have good days and bad over the course of the season and most likely his potential will show as often as his naivety.

But that’s okay, because Lampard’s patronage means that he isn’t one bad game from the substitutes’ bench. Young footballers need that. Particularly one like Mount, who has to be expressive and cannot be inhibited by fear over how misplaced passes could impact his short-term career.

 

4) That faith instructed his performance; he didn’t look like someone making a home debut.

That first Premier League appearance at Stamford Bridge came with a first Premier League goal and swift vindication of Lampard’s decision. Mount might actually have scored earlier than he did, breaking between the Leicester centre-backs but choking his shot into the ground. When his goal came, though, it was really his own work, robbing Wilfred Ndidi and cutting a shot across and beyond Kasper Schmeichel.

Lampard will have been delighted. With the goal, of course, and Chelsea’s quick lead, but also because it showed the rainbow of Mount’s abilities and his capacity to follow tactical instruction. Modern coaches love a press, particularly when it’s led by technically gifted young players showing a determination to impose themselves on a game.

 

5) The opening 20 minutes saw Chelsea in furious mood; there was no Istanbul hangover. Key seemed to be Olivier Giroud’s inclusion. He has his limitations and he’ll never be a prolific goalscorer, but there are few Premier League forwards who play quite as selflessly.

An urgent tone was set right from kick-off – that was very important – but there was so much activity around Giroud, too. He smartly chested into Pedro’s stride for a volley which crashed into the side netting and, minutes later, it was his movement which allowed Mount to snipe in for his early chance. On 25 minutes, his cute, clever backheel might have created a rare goal for N’Golo Kante.

Maybe it’s a little unkind on Tammy Abraham, but at the moment there’s no debate about who should be Chelsea’s starting centre-forward. With Giroud in the side, the supporting players all look more potent.

 

6) About that frothy Rodgers optimism…

Leicester’s foundation wasn’t right here. In the 15 minutes before half-time, there were a few of the sharp exchanges you’d expect to see from this group of players, but not nearly enough to present a proper challenge. Jamie Vardy was barely involved, save for that strange Kepa moment, and neither James Maddison nor Youri Tielmans was much of an attacking presence. But that seemed tied to the more general problem of security.

Chelsea moved the ball up the field with little difficulty. Even when their opponents were in proper shape behind the ball, the ease with which they were able to fashion space around – and sometimes inside – the box was alarming. Maybe this is an early season problem, perhaps it’s a consequence of Harry Maguire’s recent departure, but it was still concerning.

 

7) There isn’t an obvious diagnosis for it either. Caglar Soyuncu looks a bit immobile – that’s probably not ideal – but Hamza Choudhury and Ndidi were equipped to protect their defence better than they did and, outside the centre-backs, Ricardo Pereira and Christian Fuchs are hardly security risks, even if the latter has seen better days.

The intensity was wrong. That’s woolly and tenuous, apologies for that, but this wasn’t a side determined to control the middle of the pitch and – clearly – that’s a prerequisite to competing at these grounds.

 

8) An observation, one obviously wise with hindsight: it was interesting to note the body language during Leicester’s warm-up. Lots of smiles, all very casual. When players are pointing and laughing at team-mates for slashing their shots over during shooting practice, maybe that’s not indicative of an appropriate focus.

There’s no value in going too far down this road, because it’s over-analysis based on very little, but it certainly tallied with what followed.

 

9) And another lurching, knee-jerk reaction: has James Maddison been over-estimated?

Originally, before the equaliser, this was a deeply frustrated paragraph bemoaning his inability to release the ball earlier and also his tendency to make bad decisions at important moments. Let’s be fair, though: he got a lot better and, by full-time, he had become a big influence on the game.

Some of the issues are still pertinent, though. There’s a lot to like about Maddison, not least that ebullient self-belief which allowed him to adapt so quickly last season. On Sunday, he also played predominantly from the left, which doesn’t seem to suit him. However, if he is to have a England future, then his ratios still need to change. He cannot waste four opportunities for every one he creates and, at the moment, that’s still the difference between what he is and how he carries himself.

 

10) The shame of Leicester’s start was in how well they began to play after half-time. Chelsea lost their way and while Ndidi’s (splendid) headed equaliser wasn’t exactly ‘coming’, it was reward for their significant improvement.

Suddenly, there were the slick interchanges between the attacking players. Tielemans became a factor, Vardy’s back-shoulder running began to frighten Christensen and Zouma and, at last, Maddison started to become much more productive.

Credit to Rodgers and his players for that: Stamford Bridge is one of those places where it’s easy to roll over and accept defeat. Leicester didn’t.

 

11) And Maddison should have won it for them. On reflection, his stumbling run across the box and wild finish over the bar was an encapsulation of the issues described above. He’s so nearly a very good player.

 

12) What is the difference between Giroud and Abraham? Probably that the latter has no one outstanding attribute. He’s quite skilful, but not very. He’s quick, but not exceptionally so, and his finishing is quite good, but not all the time.

Giroud isn’t an all-round forward in anyone’s eyes, but the reliability of his hold-up play is such that it gives Chelsea a constant base around which to build.

By contrast, Abraham’s contributions remain erratic. He can do some of what Giroud does, but not to a high enough standard to engender any real confidence. Without that, his supporting teammates are unable to play around him in a pre-emptive way and, as a result, Chelsea inevitably lose their attacking fluidity with him as their pivot. If he is to have a future here, then that has to change.

 

13) Whether Jorginho has a long-term future here is a different issue. After a year in England, his tendencies are well established: when Chelsea are secure in games, he looks composed and impressive. When they’re not, he doesn’t.

There are bigger issues at work in Lampard’s team, because the regularity with which Leicester were able to transition out of defence and into attack – and the space they enjoyed when they did – suggested a serious imbalance somewhere. Against a more ruthless opponent, this would almost certainly ended in defeat.

So while the more frequent debate is over N’Golo Kante’s role and whether his abilities are slightly misused further forward, perhaps the better way of framing the issue is to ask whether Jorginho is really suited to being the deepest man. Is he good enough defensively? Is he athletically capable of coping when counter-attacks develop?

We’re still waiting to find out.

 

14)  It’s in those Leicester transitions that Rodgers’ best work can be seen. With the advantage of having two or three players who can occupy a traditional No.10 role, the range of movement around the ball-carrier – particularly on the counter-attack – is hugely impressive. Those runners splay out in every direction and they create panic in a defence; it’s exciting to watch and, as and when the passes are attuned to exploiting it, the goals will follow.

It’s possibly why Maddison is subject to such scrutiny. When those options exist and there’s an obvious path to goal, the right decisions have to be made. Leicester aren’t capitalising on that at the moment, but the framework is at least in place.

 

15)  And what are they, more broadly?

A threat to the top six, but probably not more than that at this stage. It would be easier to assess if we knew what Chelsea were and what this point was actually worth. Nevertheless, some of the associations they grew under Puel clearly remain – not least that bizarre tendency to look like three different sides within the space of a single game.

That has to go. They need to be more efficient in front of goal, that’s a given, but the teams at the top of the table are typically very consistent and keeping pace with them requires a high baseline of performance. Leicester don’t have that yet; they still play well for periods, rather than for entire games.

 

16) And Chelsea?

Don’t underestimate the size of the project Lampard inherited or how many problems Eden Hazard’s form was able to disguise last season.

The defence has been rebuilt and remains without Antonio Rudiger. The midfield continues to be nebulous in definition. And the attack is having to compensate for the departure of the best player in the country without the benefit of investment. It’s difficult and it’s probably going to look unconvincing for a while longer.

 

Seb Stafford-Bloor is on Twitter.

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