The running theme and general consensus in the eyes of many Chelsea fans this season is that The Blues are taking far too long to grow into games and not grabbing it by the scruff of the neck from the outset like any top side would. Going behind to a Shinji Okazaki brace, The Blues fought back and made a decent recovery attempt, ending up 4-2 winners with the reputedly shaky back-line pitching in along with a majestic extra-time double from the frenetic Cesc Fabregas to seal a spot in the fourth round of the EFL Cup for Chelsea.
What we’ve learned:
First thing’s first, RLC is not a second striker and never will be although Conte sees fixated on the idea that he is. The player looks completely lost in that role and can’t utilise a shred of his midfield brutality as well as make the incisive box-box runs we’re so used to seeing from him at youth level. He could do with being partnered alongside a more experienced figurehead in the hope that he can pick up some confidence and provide a bolster option to the squad when there is a lack of creativity.
There is a gaping hole in the defence with the absences of captain John Terry and the courageous Kurt Zouma, it might as well be a black hole, The Blues appear helpless to prevent the inevitable at their own goalmouth far too much and lacked any real leadership under the skippering of Gary Cahill, A player with more than enough experience of playing for Chelsea in the big games, the 2012 European Cup Final just to note, but it’s worrying that a player of that repertoire cannot provide any real vocal solidity organisation when Terry is sat out. This once again highlights the lack of depth at the heart of the Chelsea defence and the return of not only Terry but also his young adversary (Zouma) could not be more desperate than it is right now.
The first half showing saw Chelsea adapt a slightly irritable long-ball option much too often and despite some quality cross-field switches in play, it was a tactically flawed process which only hindered the team further, struggling to get certain players to influence play and just kept giving the ball back to the Foxes who are adept at convicting teams on the counter attack. It was once again a case of possession-a-plenty and no potency to back it up. In addition, a constant out-of-position defensive line always looked more likely to aid Leicester in playing their natural route-one game. There still doesn’t appear to be a real definitive style/identity under the guile of Antionio Conte, something which no doubt takes time but when you see what Guardiola’s doing at Man. City it does make you wonder if Conte could be that little bit more clear about what he wants to achieve in terms of the playing style, a lack of urgency being one of the key factors in current fortunes. A two-up top system shouldn’t be out of the question and we would prefer to see this more often in future especially in games where we can kill off teams with relative ease and exploit the ever-growing blossoming pairing of Batshuayi and Costa.
A Cesc and Matic midfield partnership never really worked under Mourinho so why should it now? Matic looks more and more like a headless chicken every time he steps out onto the football pitch, leaving Fabregas sitting deeper and more naturally exposed by outnumbering opposition midfields. The idea of bringing Chalobah on at that particular time in the game did prove a good ploy by Conte who saw the unnerving space in the midfield space – the key to seeing out the match as well as blocking off any hopes of a Leicester City fightback (which was aided by the red card to Macrin Wasilewski just minutes from the end of normal time. Nevertheless, the thought of re-inducting Fabregas to the starting 11 should be in the forefront of Conte’s mindset and he should have no doubts about fielding the Spaniard for the foreseeable future.
The player’s ability to pull the strings from the middle of the park and flight a pass from all angles really is undervalued by a crop of Chelsea fans who perhaps expect more of a stamp from someone of Fabregas’ ilk. He was making things happen tonight and really kept the midfield creativity ticking over, more notably in the second half showing. His first goal in particular, an expertly worked team goal capped off by a clever finish which fooled both Wes Morgan and stand-in City goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler. It was a real lavish serving of ‘sexy’ gloss onto a cup tie that experienced a frantic turnover in play from the get-go off the second half.
Losing Petr Cech was quite possibly the worst move in Chelsea history, the team has never looked so nervy at the back and without someone of Cech’s calibre between the sticks, the organisation of the defence repeatedly comes into question as well as the glaring errors in the goalkeeping, something which is really starting to creep in to the spine of the West London club. Cech had raw passion, a significance that we desperately miss in the current crop bar the likes of John Terry and Diego Costa. As soon as Costa came on, the game lit up, and he struck unsettling fear into the Leicester City centre halves who had no real idea how to deal with him. Fast becoming a player that is replied upon far too much and with his prior injury record must be rectified in order to prevent dry spells in front of goal in his absence.
The Blues did however, cope well with the pace of the Foxes’ front-line for the majority of the game and were able to put a restriction on the counter-attacking as a whole despite a severely nervy start to the game. A similar first half to the one against Liverpool last Friday night, with a call for half-time changes the norm amongst almost all Chelsea fans as the game looked almost out of reach if not for Cahill’s late first-half header. There should be no excuse for Chelsea not to field their strongest possible eleven in cup matches with the absence of European football no more obvious than it is this season.
The concept of set piece exploitation has always reigned supreme around Chelsea and there is always a confidence that there will be plenty of goals from these situations due to the extensive height and aerial physicality, especially from the centre halves and we were reminded of this through Cahill’s goal, but it must occur much more regularly under Conte if they are to spurn the amount of chances that they do.
Asmir Begovic – lacked command of his box and could have done better for the goals, always going to be a bit rusty considering he hasn’t played competitively since… – 5
Cesar Azpilicueta – Poor mistake for the first goal and terrible positioning for the second, however, fairly solid game and took his goal superbly along with some expert wing play in the second half – 6
Gary Cahill – brought Chelsea back into the game but didn’t show enough leadership in place of JT, considering his experience, always looked unsure with pace of Leicester running at him – 6
David Luiz – Showed some exquisite passing but often riding his luck defensively, a couple of poor decisions won’t help in restoring faith to the fans of his defensive solidity – 5
Marcos Alonso – Like many of the Chelsea side he took almost an hour to really grow into the game, made some good runs and linked up well with the likes of Costa and Pedro, evidently needs more game time and has done himself no harm tonight – 6
Nemanja Matic – Shamefully , a shadow of his former self, seems scared to run with the ball and happy to sit deeper, loses the ball far too often and again his decision making is still a bit off at times, solidified as the game went on but has no real impact in the midfield battle – 5
Cesc Fabregas – Didn’t put a foot wrong tonight, despite not being 100% at his best, put in a great delivery for Cahill’s goal and scored two excellent individual efforts in extra time, needs players around him to create more space to operate in otherwise he struggles to influence the game, always got that killer pass in his locker and his celebration more than reaffirmed his loyalty to the club – 8
Victor Moses – Better as an impact substitute, got lots of energy and not afraid to run at the opposition, but unable to play efficiently in early stages – Chelsea’s most direct player who needs more service if he is to be at his most effectively dangerous, could improve his final ball too – 6
Ruben Loftus-Cheek – Another bright spark who only really showed us glimpses of his true quality – flashes of brilliant box-box play but being played out of position unnecessarily by Conte and looking a little lost, certainly needs experience in and around him – 5
Pedro – One of his more exciting games, we saw some bright movement and a willingness to make the final third incision but final delivery was poor and he does not fit a 4-4-2 system, unlucky to have an effort chalked offside but was one of the few shining lights in a dire first half display – 6
Michy Batshuayi – Only really go into the game when Costa came on, showing his Drogba-esque hold-up play but missed a couple of key chances when it mattered most, another player with a big future ahead of him at the London club but needs more game time, most effective in a forward partnership – 6
Eden Hazard -brilliant back-heel assist for Fabregas’ first goal, brought real energy and killer instinct to the game, looked refreshed and rejuvenated, must put in a big shift at Arsenal away on Saturday to avoid consistency issues – 6
Diego Costa – Proved a game-changing sub, provided an alternate outlet for through balls and worked well with the over-the-top deliveries, should have buried a couple of opportunities, worked well with Michy and imposed a fear factor into the Leicester defence when he came on – 6
Nathaniel Chalobah – Had little time to really add anything to the contest, looked incredibly calm and composed on the ball and can actually string more than one pass together at a time, deserved his debut at long last and will hopefully feature more heavily in the coming games, an invaluable midfield presence which would sit well alongside Kante/Fabregas, something for Antonio Conte to seriously think about – 5
Man of The Match: – Cesc Fabregas