For the latest from the pitch sign up for our football newsletter
Chelsea all but secured third place in the Premier League, despite being frustrated and held to a 1-1 draw by Leicester on Thursday night.
James Maddison stunned the Blues with an early curling strike and Brendan Rodgers’ side then sat behind the ball, intent on keeping the hosts out. Marcos Alonso equalised with a thumping back-post volley from Reece James’ cross, but Chelsea could not find a winner.Romelu Lukaku missed with a few half-chances before crossing for an unmarked Christian Pulisic, who somehow conspired to scuff his effort wide inside the six-yard box.
The result was a disappointing one for Chelsea, but it leaves them three points ahead of fourth-placed Tottenham going into the final game of the season at home to Watford on Sunday. Thomas Tuchel’s side have a much superior goal difference, meaning third place is all but assured.
Here are two things Tuchel got right, and three he got wrong at Stamford Bridge.
Getting wing-backs high up the pitch
All eyes were on Romelu Lukaku, but it was Chelsea’s left wing-back Alonso who found the equaliser after Maddison’s opener, getting on the end of an inch-perfect pass from James. For a defender, Alonso has a very handy record in front of goal – especially from volleys, for which he has become somewhat of an expert.
The Spaniard now has five goals and five assists from 45 appearances in all competitions this season and 29 goals and 23 assists in 212 appearances altogether for the club. Those statistics are relevant because, like many of his team-mates, it seems Alonso could be leaving the club this summer, with Barcelona eager to sign him a year before his contract expires.
Chelsea had 72 per cent of the ball in the first half but mustered just two shots on target – Alonso’s goal and a Trevoh Chalobah long-shot which Schmeichel tipped over. Once they had the lead Leicester were more than happy to sit back in a low block in their 5-3-2 formation and soak up Chelsea pressure.
The hosts didn’t have much of an answer, with the midfield pairing of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante feeling very pedestrian. Jorginho is all about tempo – playing short passes to keep the team moving – while Kante is picked for his work in winning the ball, not using it. The combination was sluggish.
With Mateo Kovacic unavailable there was no drive in the middle of the pitch. Ruben Loftus-Cheek remained on the bench until midway through the second half, while Ross Barkley and Saul Niguez were never likely to come on.
Persisting with Lukaku
It’s been a long and unsatisfying season for Lukaku, who has one game remaining in which to try and convince Chelsea’s soon-to-be new owner that he is worth persevering with. The Belgian striker cost Chelsea a club-record £97.5million at the start of the season following a prolific campaign for Inter Milan, but there has been little evidence of that form since.
It was more of the same against Leicester, with an early sighting wasted by a heavy touch which allowed Daniel Amartey to block and a free header flicked wide from Alonso’s cross. He did turn provider for Pulisic, putting a goal on a plate for the American, only to see him scuff his effort wide, but there was little goalmouth action. Lukaku now has a record of 15 goals in 43 appearances this season.
Putting James in midfield
Unlike many of his team-mates – and thankfully for Chelsea – James is not going anywhere. The right wing-back was the best player on the pitch, providing the assist for Alonso’s goal, as well as the majority of the creative spark. He was everywhere, taking set pieces and drifting into midfield to kickstart things.
And that is why, when Tuchel made a double substitution to bring on Loftus-Cheek and Cesar Azpilicueta for Kante and Pulisic in the 72nd minute, he chose to put James centrally. Much has been said about Trent Alexander-Arnold’s ability to play centrally, but it is James who has actually shown he can this season.
The 22-year-old is an absolute star for Chelsea and did not look out of place playing on the right of a three in midfield. His assist means he now has eight in the Premier League this season; the most by a player 22 or under in a single campaign for the Blues since Eden Hazard in 2012/13. Not bad.
Mason Mount was left on the bench in what will almost certainly be an unpopular move amongst Chelsea fans. Mount has been by far and a way Chelsea's best and most consistent attacker this season, but he, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner – Tuchel's most favoured front three – were all absent from the starting XI.
In their place, Lukaku, Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech were ineffective. Leicester's back five suffocated Chelsea's attacking verve, which was almost entirely provided by the wing-backs. Todd Boehly will have much to ponder if he does indeed complete the takeover from Roman Abramovich.
- Chelsea FC
- Thomas Tuchel
Source: Read Full Article