Football Previews

Chelsea vs Leicester: team news, predictions and expected lineups

By Harry Edwards

Chelsea vs Leicester: team news, predictions and expected lineups

Published: 10:43, 14 May 2021

Chelsea and Leicester City face off at Wembley on Saturday looking to secure silverware in the FA Cup final.

The Blues were beaten finalists last year and knocked Leicester out en route to the Wembley showcase, but a lot has changed since then with Frank Lampard replaced by Thomas Tuchel. Leicester are in the FA Cup final for the first time since 1969, when they were beaten by Manchester City.

We’ve come up with five predictions for the game:

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1. Predicted Chelsea XI

The past two games have seen Chelsea rotate from their strongest XI, trying to manage fitness and avoid injuries going into a crucial stage of the season which sees them in the FA Cup and Champions League finals while also challenging for the Premier League top four.

So you can expect the Blues to return to full strength this weekend, or as close as possible, though Kepa Arrizabalaga will continue in goal. The Spaniard has been Chelsea’s FA Cup ‘keeper and Tuchel confirmed he started Kepa against Arsenal to keep him fresh ahead of the trip to Wembley.

“We thought it was a good idea to give him the game before because, first of all, we trust him and he deserves it,” he told reporters.

“That is the basis that we put him in the line-up. He is so close and so good in training that we wanted to give him some minutes and to take both games together. It was an unlucky night for him as well.”

In defence, Chelsea will be hoping Antonio Rudiger can play after he was left out against Arsenal to avoid injury, with the German expected to join Thiago Silva and Cesar Azpilicueta as Tuchel’s back three. Reece James and Ben Chilwell will be the wing-backs, either side of Jorginho and N’Golo Kante if the latter recovers from a slight ankle problem.

Then up front, Tuchel will want to go with arguably his first-choice trio of Mason Mount, Timo Werner and Kai Havertz, though Christian Pulisic is an option.

2. Predicted Leicester XI

Leicester have had the benefit of one extra day of rest compared to Chelsea, which may make Brendan Rodgers’ decision on his starting XI slightly easier.

Rodgers rotated very slightly for Leicester’s win over Manchester United, with Ayoze Perez and Luke Thomas coming in for James Maddison and Ricardo Pereira. However, Thomas may not keep his place in the XI even after scoring at Old Trafford, with the more experienced Marc Albrighton taking his spot while Pereira returns to deal with Chelsea’s wing-backs.

The back four of Kasper Schmeichel, Timothy Castagne, Wesley Fofana and Caglar Soyuncu should continue barring any late injuries, with Wilfried Ndidi and Youri Tielemans forming a two-man central midfield unit. However, Jonny Evans could throw a spanner in the works if he does return from his own setback, as is hoped.

Maddison is also likely to return to play a supporting role behind Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho, with the pair guaranteed starts both on lack of options and their good form.

3. Chelsea to come out firing

Chelsea were poor against Arsenal, pinned down from the start before handing their opponents a lead that they just couldn’t overcome. But before Arsenal were gifted their goal by Jorginho’s poor backpass, Chelsea had the chance to take the lead when Havertz won the ball from Pablo Mari just inside the Gunners half. The German attacker raced down on goal and had just compatriot Bernd Leno to beat but, when one-on-one inside the area, he sent his shot high over the bar.

Speaking after the game, Tuchel put his side’s slow start down to a lack of concentration, perhaps with an eye on this weekend’s final.

“We all lacked concentration and focus today, which is very unusual,” he said. “Maybe I also gave some signals to the team with the changes that Saturday [FA Cup final] is on my mind, and even if it’s only one per cent, this is not how we approach things because you get punished.”

Tuchel also commented on Arsenal’s use of a 5-4-1 stifling Chelsea’s passing intensity and Leicester’s switch to a back five can cause them the same problems. So, Chelsea will be looking to take control of the game early on to avoid having to chase a lead. If they score first, Chelsea may take heart from the fact they have only lost one game after taking the lead during Tuchel’s reign, with that sole defeat coming against West Bromwich Albion when they were reduced to 10 men. However, it’s also worth noting that Leicester have won 11 points from losing positions in the Premier League during Tuchel’s reign, more than any other team.

4. Jamie Vardy has a point to prove

Iheanacho is Leicester’s star right now and is fully deserving of all the praise he receives for scoring 13 goals in his past 12 league and cup matches, including the winner against Southampton in the semi-finals. His form has also papered over the cracks of Vardy’s less than stellar recent record.

The former England international goes into this weekend’s game in uncharacteristically bad form in front of goal, having found the net just twice in his 20 games played since the start of 2021, netting against Liverpool and West Brom. Vardy has also endured a poor recent record against Chelsea, without a goal in his past five appearances including the previous Premier League fixture this season (although Leicester did still win).

Vardy has, however, been praised by Rodgers for his partnership with Iheanacho both on and off the ball. “All the goals he’s scored in recent months, a lot of the time Jamie has been up there with him and he stretches the game which gives other players more space,” Rodgers said recently.

“He is a real selfless player. He is such a naturally gifted goalscorer but there is more to his game than that.”

It’s those runs that will cause Chelsea problems this weekend, especially if Chelsea look to get hold of the game and play a higher line when on the ball. If the likes of Ndidi and Tielemans can turn over possession quickly, Vardy can get behind the Chelsea defence and put himself in a good position to either test Arrizabalaga or set up Iheanacho.

5. Rudiger’s lucky charm to see Chelsea over the line

In the summer, it looked as though Rudiger’s Chelsea career was over, but he eventually played his way back into the XI under Lampard and has kept that place with Tuchel in charge. Now, it wouldn’t be too outlandish to dub him Chelsea’s most important centre-back.

Not just a solid defender on his day, Rudiger is also key to Chelsea bringing the ball out from defence. Under Tuchel, he has been known to start attacks not just with his long-range passing but also driving the ball up the pitch himself. Against Arsenal in midweek, his absence was clear as Kurt Zouma failed to reproduce the runs Rudiger can make when Chelsea are struggling to break down a tough midfield.

But, of course, he is a more than capable defender, too. In the Premier League this season, Chelsea have conceded 26 goals in the 19 games Rudiger hasn’t started, including one against Arsenal in midweek, for an average of 1.4 per match. However, when Rudiger has started, they have conceded just seven in 17 (0.4 per game).

Under Tuchel, that record is even better, with Chelsea conceding six goals in Rudiger’s 21 appearances across all competitions compared to six in the five he hasn’t played (though five did come against West Brom).

If Rudiger does indeed start this weekend, you can expect him to bring experience and leadership to a Chelsea defence that looked bereft of any kind of personality against Arsenal in midweek. Not to mention, history is shining on Chelsea. On top of all the 2011/12 comparisons fans are using to predict that Chelsea will win the FA Cup and Champions League, when the Blues lost the 2017 FA Cup final to Arsenal, they won the competition the following year.

So, having lost the 2020 FA Cup final to Arsenal, can Chelsea make history repeat itself?

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