Leicester City defeated Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon. A beautiful team move was emphatically finished by Jamie Vardy, providing the only goal of the match. This was City’s first win in the league at the Bridge since 2000, when Muzzy Izzet and Stan Collymore provided the offense for the Foxes. This was also Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri’s first home defeat in the Premier League.
Manager Claude Puel, changes, etc., I’m sure you know the routine by now. Today’s lineup saw Kasper Schmeichel in goal behind Ricardo Pereira, Wes Morgan, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell in defense. A midfield three of Hamza Choudhury, Nampalys Mendy, and Wilfred Ndidi lined up behind attackers Marc Albrighton, Jamie Vardy, and James Maddison.
The first ten minutes of the match looked suspiciously like what you’d expect of the last ten minutes of a 0-0, with City defending in numbers and the hosts knocking the ball around the perimeter of the area trying to break the Foxes down. The announcers noted that it looked a matter of “when, not if” Chelsea would score. Against the expectations of the commentary, Leicester were able to absorb the pressure and keep the Blues at bay.
The first hour was short on highlights of any note. Chelsea passed the ball around beautifully. City defended with impressive discipline and caused the hosts some nervous moments on set pieces. But, Leicester continued to give the ball away cheaply when they nicked it off the Blues and struggled to buy any relief for the defense.
On 32’, the Foxes really should have gone behind. Maguire attempted to get in front of Hazard to intercept a pass in the penalty area but got his touch all wrong and actually played the ball into the path of the Belgium man. He took one touch and lashed a drive that beat Schmeichel but thundered back off the crossbar.
On 38’, Ricardo and Vardy attempted to work a 1-2 on the edge of the area but got it all kinds of wrong, with the Portugal man’s shot cannoning off of Vardy, but it fell kindly to Ndidi outside the area. I imagine every Leicester fan had their head in their hands yelling “Nooooo!”, as the Nigeria midfielder lined up his long range drive. Against all (meaning “my”) expectations, he struck it perfectly. Kepa Arrizabalaga dove to his left and just got enough on the swerving drive to keep it out of the back of the net.
The near-goal woke up the Blues and they added a little urgency to their moves, but Schmeichel was up to every effort and the Foxes were able to see out the remainder of the half on level terms, 0-0.
Neither side made any changes in personnel at the half, but both came out with greater sense of purpose. No one showed this more keenly than Ricardo, who rode several tackles to carry the ball deep into the Chelsea half. He found Madders just outside the area, and the former Norwich man laid the ball into the path of a diagonal run by Vardy. The former Stockbridge Steels man hit it first time, high and hard, leaving Kepa no chance whatsoever giving the Foxes a 1-0 lead at the Bridge.
It comes as no surprise that the goal sparked an additional sense of urgency in the Chelsea side. Hazard, coming from a slightly offside position, got yet another one-on-one chance with Schmeichel, but the Dane stood tall and denied him from close range. Chelsea manager Sarri decided to change things up, introducing Olivier Giroud and Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Willian and Mateo Kovacic.
It was the Foxes who were now laying siege to their opponents goal. Brilliant work by Albrighton down the wing saw a low cross fumbled by Kepa just behind Vardy. The former England international tried an audacious backheel that was just kept out by Cesar Azpilicueta’s knee and Chelsea were just able to hold on.
On 80’, City once again came close to doubling the lead. A cross into the Chelsea area was half-cleared as far as Albrighton, who had days to line up his shot - a low rasping drive that Kepa did well to turn around the post. Puel, perhaps sensing that the Blues were on the ropes, made two attacking changes, sending on Demarai Gray and Kelechi Iheanacho for Maddison and Vardy.
City’s hard work was nearly undone on 88’ when the hosts won a corner through a Ricardo clearance. The near post corner was met by Antonio Rüdiger, but his glancing header was just wide of the far post. Just into injury time, Kante set Marcos Alonso free all alone in the Foxes’ penalty area, but the Spain fullback somehow hit the inside of the post and rolled back across the face of the net. As my wife said, “Who has the voodoo doll out there?” That would prove to be the last goalmouth action of the match as the Foxes saw out a deserved 1-0 win over Chelsea.
When I said “deserved”, I meant it. We weren’t great in the first half, but we were clearly the better side in the second. Chelsea had some great chances, but so did we and, in the end, it was only Jamie Vardy who was able to convert. It was a magnificent performance at the most unexpected of times, and the Foxes fans (minus the diehard “Puel-Out” crowd) should savor it.
When you win on the road against Chelsea, there are going to be a lot of outstanding performances. Vardy’s tireless running down the left, Choudhury closing down everyone in a blue shirt, and Schmeichel coming up with timely saves, but it was really the fullbacks who provided the difference. Chelsea had no answer for Chilwell and especially Ricardo, both of whom handled their defensive duties with aplomb and menaced the Blues’ flanks all afternoon.
You might want to reconsider, boss. Hamza was the best of an impressive midfield three today.
You have to also give credit to Leicester manager Claude Puel. He got the team and the shape right, and a little tactical move, switching Vardy and Maddison in the second half, allowed both of them to see more of the ball in attacking positions and keep the Blues pinned back. It was a solid performance by a manager who has been under fire and he deserves all the credit for this win.
The win moves the Foxes back to the top half of the table, sitting in 9th place on 25 points after 18 matches. The first half of the season ends on Boxing Day as the Foxes host what promises to be a very different Manchester City side than the one we faced in the League Cup on Tuesday.