Raheem Sterling double helps 10-man Chelsea beat Leicester

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As Thomas Tuchel watched on from the stands at Stamford Bridge, his problems at Chelsea mounting before his eyes, Raheem Sterling’s deflected shot looped to offer some salvation. Sterling’s first Premier League goal for Chelsea was soon followed by his second and came after the Blues were reduced to 10 men following Conor Gallagher’s first-half red card, a moment that changed the game and raised the stakes of an early-season fixture in which both sides needed a result.

Instead, despite Harvey Barnes pulling one back and Chelsea desperately hanging on, it added further pressure on Leicester and Brendan Rodgers after their third straight defeat.

On another day, Leicester may well have been happy to leave with a point, given the disruption caused by Wesley Fofana’s imminent move to Chelsea but also the late injury absence of James Maddison.

But Gallagher’s dismissal for two early yellow cards in many ways put the spotlight on them, only to illuminate a side who looked short, both on ideas and numbers, and took far too long to respond to the opportunity presented to them. When it was too late, they still couldn’t force the equaliser against 10 men. Jamie Vardy missed several chances and Ayoze Perez smacked the bar at the death.

Conor Gallagher was sent off for two bookable offences

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Chelsea survived, on an afternoon that suddenly became framed differently after Gallagher’s red. Already needing a response after Sunday’s capitulation at Leeds, and riled further following the win that slipped through their fingers against Tottenham with Tuchel serving his one-match suspension for his clash with Antonio Conte, this is a huge win.

To their credit, even without Tuchel, Chelsea turned a performance that looked lacking in attacking inspiration into one that required some battling qualities. Thiago Silva, who turned 37 this week, was immense. It suited Chelsea that the details of their task were made simpler, even if that was not what it seemed when Gallagher was sent off.

Ironically, in a scrappy opening half hour, Gallagher looked one of the few Chelsea players who looked up for it. An excellent challenge tracking back on Barnes, was followed by an act of over-eager defending in midfielder and saw him booked. It left him on a tightrope, which, when you’re the last player left back when attacking corners can be a perilous place to be. Marc Cucurella’s corner hit the first man and his follow-up was played in front of Barnes, who skipped around Gallagher and went down under the contact. Gallagher, linked with a move away this week, was distraught.

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Releasing Barnes, though, what Leicester had been trying to do all match. It’s just they had hardly played until Gallagher’s red card. They had to offer something now. They thought they had scored the opener from a corner only for a foul to be given on Barnes as he grappled with Edouard Mendy on the line. Vardy then scuffed wide as the right-sided prong of Leicester’s split-strikers threatened, before Youri Tielemans slipped in Dennis Praet as the visitors pushed forward on the stroke of half-time, forcing a big save from Mendy.

Edouard Mendy helped repel Leicester

Chelsea were ragged and grateful to head into half-time level against the superior number. It was a first half that could have taken quite a different turn. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, moved back into midfield, was the Chelsea player with the most space throughout the first half, tucking behind Barnes, and he should have given Chelsea the lead when Sterling rolled a square across the face of goal, with Danny Ward saving from close range. Chelsea then thought they had a penalty as Loftus-Cheek combined with Kai Havertz before going down under a bizarre challenge from Tielemans. Sterling stood ready on the spot, only for the penalty to be overturned as Havertz had been marginally offside in the build up.

Chelsea, though, were slow, Havertz continued to lack bite, Mason Mount was anonymous and hooked at half-time as the hosts shuffled their shape. Before the break, Reece James had started to take some initiative, and lashed a shot against the near post. When play resumed, Sterling followed his lead and grabbed the match by the neck with two decisive contributions.

Sterling received the ball on the edge of the box and with Daniel Amartey standing off, looked for the far corner. It deflected off Amartey’s shin, looping over Ward and under the crossbar. Cucurella, almost revitalised by needing to be Chelsea’s entire left flank, then picked out Sterling on the break but the forward shot against the post. He was far more ruthless moments later. In a trademark finish at the back post, Sterling converted a whipped ball from James into the empty net after nice link-up play with Havertz.

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Leicester by that point had already made their first attacking changes, with Kelechi Iheanacho and Perez coming on, but frustratingly for Rodgers they only began to threaten once they were two goals behind.

Out of nowhere, Barnes exchanged a one-two with Vardy and rifled a shot inside Mendy’s near post. Iheanacho curled wide, Vardy was denied by Mendy following a clipped ball over the top and then, after being played in by Perez and beating Trevoh Chalobah to the ball, took it too far wide past the goalkeeper and couldn’t squeeze his finish inside the post. Somehow, Chelsea got away with this. Perez was slipped in before crashing a shot off the underside of the bar. A battling win became a huge one. It’s funny how a red card can change a game.

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