In an entertaining night of football, Chelsea beat Leicester 2-1 to move into third place and take the edge in Champions League qualification.
Back in their nice-looking kits, the Blues were back to winning ways after two straight defeats. They avenged their FA Cup final defeat by beating their conquerors to take hold of the Champions League race.
1. “Rudi” leads the defence
Antonio Rudiger was a forgotten man under Frank Lampard. There was talk that he would be loaned out to Barcelona in January, or just sold permanently. He didn’t seem to have a future at the club, but when Thomas Tuchel came in and needed a German to explain his tactics to, he recalled Rudiger and the massive defender has been in the side ever since.
As much as Rudiger doesn’t have the heralded central spot in the defence, there’s no doubt that he is the most important defender in the Chelsea side. He is the one who plays with the most intensity and drive, emphasising that Tuchel’s team is not just a series of parked buses but a dynamic and driven side who defend first and play from there.
Each of Antonio Rüdiger's last three Premier League goals for Chelsea have come against Leicester City. 😳 pic.twitter.com/K421ooBEwm
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 18, 2021
And today Leicester felt that force as Rudiger first shut them down at the back and then scored the opening goal of the game from a corner. Leicester could do nothing to puncture the shield Rudiger erected around the defence and the German’s effect on the crowd was palpable as he whipped them into a frenzy with his driving runs or when he confronted Ricardo Pereira when standing up for the stricken Ben Chilwell which brought the fans to their feet chanting “RUDI! RUDI! RUDI!”
He is Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.
2. Leicester let it slip
Leicester won the FA Cup in incredible fashion, beating Chelsea 1-0 at Wembley with an iconic strike from Youri Tielemans. That match will define their season as it absolutely should. 2020/21 will always be an iconic year for Leicester City because of that triumph.
However, their failure to beat Southampton and Newcastle at the start of the month left their top four status in the balance. And their defeat here today has well and truly let it slip through their fingers.
The result lets Chelsea leapfrog them into third spot and while they still hold an edge over Liverpool, they can pick up just three more points this season for a maximum of 69 points. If Liverpool win both their remaining games then they will also be on… 69 points. And the Reds hold the current edge in goal difference with two games to boost it and unless Leicester annihilate Spurs on the final day, that is unlikely to change.
Yes, the FA Cup was great. No one can ever take that from Leicester. But they also had Champions League qualification in their grasp and they let it slip tonight. For the second season in a row, the Foxes have crumbled at the last in their attempts to make Europe’s top competition. It’s going to be Liverpool.
3. Timo can’t catch a break
Timo Werner is just perpetually unlucky. First there’s the incident 20 minutes in when, as Youri Tielemans was swinging his leg to clear the ball, Werner ran in front of him and as a result got kicked in the leg by the Belgian.
In any normal circumstance that would be a penalty, albeit a harsh one as there was no intent from Tielemans. But this is Timo Werner, so the referee blew for a Leicester free-kick and then VAR backed him up.
To make matters worse just a few minutes later Werner made a nice run into space, received a pass, turned and slid the ball into the near-post to give Chelsea the lead! Well, except, he hadn’t. As he was offside when he received the pass, and was flagged as such by the linesman.
Then 35 minutes in a delirious corner came into the box and Werner rose and appeared to nudge it over the line. The goal-line technology watched beeped and Werner wheeled away in celebration with a full-throated Stamford Bridge roaring him on; but VAR popped up again and pointed out that Werner had missed the ball with his head (somehow) and pushed it in with his arm. No goal.
In the end he did win a penalty at the second time for asking, getting his legs clipped by Wesley Fofana as he was running away from goal. So perhaps his luck is turning? We’ll have to wait and see.
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4. Kelechi can’t stop!
After a mediocre display in the FA Cup final, Kelechi Iheanacho was dropped for tonight’s match. With the score at 1-0, Brendan Rodgers sent for his big striker to come on and rescue things. And although Chelsea extended their lead soon after he came on, the Nigerian did nearly rescue things as his manager wanted.
10 minutes after Chelsea doubled their lead, Wilfred Ndidi poached the ball back quickly and fed it in to the Seniorman just inside the box. The Nigerian made no mistake with a calm, crisp first-time finish beyond Edouard Mendy. A superb goal, his 16th in his last 18 games and his first on a Tuesday this season, to go with his goals on every other day of the week. The first-ever player to score on every day of the week a single league season; but more important than that fun record is that he proved he is still potent against even the very best defences and going forward you can expect him, not Jamie Vardy, to be Leicester’s leading forward.
5. Tuchel sweats on his secret weapon
Lost in the noise and circumstances of the result of this game was that N’Golo Kanté, Chelsea’s best player, left the field with an injury in the first-half. It didn’t look serious, so perhaps it was just a precaution, but if Chelsea have serious designs on winning the Champions League final against Manchester City then they are going to need N’Golo Kanté’s genius talent to make it happen.
As good as Jorginho is (Chelsea’s top scorer in the Premier League this season with 7 goals) and as lively as Mateo Kovacic was on his return tonight (he won a game-high 4 tackles in just one hour of football) neither of them are N’Golo Kanté. He is different gravy and Thomas Tuchel will want to be able to pour him all over the Man City midfield in Porto.