Leicester v Chelsea: Jonathan Wilson's Tactical Preview


One of the reasons for Leicester’s success this season has been their lack of injuries and suspensions, and they have almost a full squad to choose from on Monday. The full-back Ritchie De Laet is their only absentee, the victim of an ankle injury. The striker Falcao is definitely out for Chelsea, but John Terry and Ramires returned in the Champions League win over Porto on Wednesday, giving Jose Mourinho effectively a full squad to select from.


Talk of Chelsea’s renaissance turned out to be premature. It wasn’t just the media who thought a corner had been turned with the wins over Norwich and Maccabi Tel Aviv, followed by the draw against Tottenham; Jose Mourinho was notably sparkier last week. But the defeat against Bournemouth on Saturday exposed familiar failings: pedestrian and predictable going forward and strangely susceptible to direct running at the back. Then came the win over Porto on Wednesday, which was probably their best performance of the season and inconsistency is probably better than being consistently awful.

Leicester’s form is excellent – just one defeat this season and six wins in their last eight games. The major doubt about them is that they have so far played only three of the six wealthiest sides in the league, all of them at home, and have taken just two points from those games. Chelsea won both meetings last season, but Leicester were perhaps a little unlucky to lose 3-1 in the home game towards the end of the season.


There’s nothing especially complicated about how Leicester play. They sit deep, soak up pressure and strike on the break, using their pace and directness in forward areas. Given how vulnerable Chelsea can look against those who run at them, which suggests Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton could prosper on the flanks. Branislav Ivanovic has recovered his form to an extent after an awful start to the season but still isn’t the commanding presence he used to be. On the left, meanwhile, Mourinho seems to have lost faith in Cesar Azpilicueta and Baba Rahman is yet to find his feet in the Premier League.


One of Leicester’s great strengths this season has been the holding midfield pairing of N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater, offering not just ball-winning quality but also shifting the ball forward quickly and with enough accuracy to be dangerous (although Leicester have the worst pass success rate in the league). Until Wednesday, it would have been a fair – if slightly surprising – expectation that Leicester would dominate in the middle. But with Cesc Fabregas dropped and Ramires back from injury, Nemanja Matic looked far more settled and it may be a more even contest.


Diego Costa has apologised for throwing his bib at Jose Mourinho and the manager seemed at pains to talk up his improvement on Wednesday, having apparently spent time working one-on-one with him on the training ground, but that doesn’t mean he is back. He played a key part in both Chelsea goals on Wednesday: a barrelling run and a neat take-down and lay-off, but missed three one-on-ones (albeit that the first of them ended up as a goal via a save and Ivan Marcano’s midriff).

As Mourinho noted, although his movement has improved, he is still lacking confidence, leading to a hesitation with his second chance and a duff touch with his third. The way Leicester play, sitting deep, is unlikely to offer that kind of chance anyway, leaving Costa to get on with penalty-box brawling against Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, which in some ways may suit him better.


This was a much easier game to preview before Wednesday, when Chelsea really did look as though they might be back. Even then, though, it’s slightly baffling that the home team, 17 points clear of the away team in the table, should be as long as 3.15 and the away side as short as 2.30. Leicester’s inability to beat Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United at home, though, is a warning sign: can they really do it against the biggest sides?

The likelihood is that Mourinho, as he always does under pressure, will look to close the game down which make Under 2.5 goals at 1.95 the best way to go. Or, for something more adventurous, perhaps those games against Spurs and United offer an insight and make it worth Dutching correct scores bets on 0-0 [11.00]