The Premier League returns this weekend with a host of entertaining and intriguing fixtures. One such game that will catch the eye is Chelsea’s trip to face Leicester City at 3 pm on Saturday.
The two have been trading places over the last two seasons with Leicester claiming a title victory in 2015/16 as Chelsea languished in mid-table anonymity, while their fortunes were reversed in the following campaign as the Foxes found things difficult in 2016/17, with Chelsea romping home to a title triumph. Ultimately, most critics saw it as a restoration of the balance.
Last season also saw an end to the tenure of title winning manager Claudio Ranieri. The Italian failed to ignite his side last term and his services, following some abject performances from his players, were dispensed of. It left a bitter taste following what was one of the most incredible sporting stories in history.
Following his departure, Craig Shakespeare was installed as manager, with the new coach taking the team forward and away from the relegation zone. While Shakespeare was dubbed ‘Snakespeare’ by some, the job he did was admirable, as he secured the Foxes’ position in the league for another year.
This term, Leicester have seen a victory over Arsenal slip away in the dying moments of a 4-3 defeat, before defeating Brighton 2-0 and losing 2-0 to Manchester United. While playing newly promoted Brighton is ideal in any teams starting fixtures, having to travel to play the Gunners and United in their opening away games was harsh.
The difficulty level doesn’t dip this weekend though, with last season’s champions now in town. With an incredibly tough game to welcome them back to the Premier League, what starting XI are Leicester likely to field?
Ultimately, Leicester should field the same team that played so well against Manchester United in the last game week. Harry Maguire was the standout performer defensively as he looked so at ease on the ball. His first-touch, passing and dribbling were outstanding which relieved a lot of pressure as United pressed high up the pitch.
Unfortunately for the Foxes, Danny Drinkwater made the switch to Chelsea on deadline day, thus stripping Leicester of a very good midfielder. This makes it even more important that, when the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton receive the ball out wide, they must not lose it prematurely and their passes must be crisp and accurate. After all, Drinkwater was not just an energetic presence in the middle, he could also pick a pass and provided another threat going forward.
Finally, up front is England striker Jamie Vardy. The quick forward struggled last term but looks back to his combative and pacey self once again. Leicester will need him at his very best if they are to challenge Chelsea this weekend.
The matchup will see Leicester stretched in defence massively, but what must they do to give themselves a chance of winning?
On the opening day, Burnley provided the biggest shock beating the champions at home. Of course, Chelsea did look off colour and any team’s first game can sometimes see cobwebs needing to be dislodged. Burnley were able to capitalise on Chelsea’s poor start by using the ball intelligently though. They surprised the Blues three times by playing the ball out from the back with neat passes which lead to all three goals.
Instead of looking to launch the ball forward to give their defenders a chance to get out of their own box, Leicester would be better served taking a risk and trying to move the ball quickly and around their opponents. If they do this, they could expose the space between Chelsea’s midfield and defence.
Shakespeare should also be looking to target Chelsea new boys Antonio Rudiger in defence and Tiemoue Bakayoko in midfield. The two are fine players and it is obvious why Chelsea parted with so much money for them, however, they are both inexperienced Premier League players.
The physicality and speed of England’s top league has always been a difficult hurdle for new players to jump. Playing against a forward like Vardy, who is very physical and loves a battle will not be something Rudiger or Bakayoko will relish. Indeed, the striker should look to target either of the two from long-ball situations or when peeling off the player to get in behind them. They could find his physical presence tough to deal with, potentially resulting in a mistake by one of the Chelsea players or a string of fouls.
Finally, Leicester should attempt to continue in their counter-attacking style that won them so many admirers and the Premier League title. Their ability to sit deep in a compact shape and break quickly with Mahrez and Vardy is incredibly dangerous.
While last season did show that their opponents have become aware of their ambitions, Leicester know that they are likely to get dominated possession wise by Chelsea meaning they can look to attack on the break. The Blues, while solid defensively, haven’t looked at their water-tight best so far this season, therefore Leicester can look to capitalise on this.
Leicester will know that if Chelsea are playing to their capacity this weekend then they will be in for a rough 90 minutes on Saturday. However, if they can knock Chelsea out of their rhythm early and perhaps sneak a goal in the opening exchanges, then it may just play into the Foxes hands.