15:00 KO (BST); Saturday 9th September; King Power Stadium (Leicester, England)
Having lost two of their first three games, Leicester are a team that flatter to deceive and fail to deliver. Craig Shakespeare now has the challenge of turning his team’s fortunes around with results that can match the performances his players are providing him with.
He also has to do this without Danny Drinkwater, a player who has been integral to Leicester’s life in the Premier League so far and who will line up against them this weekend.
Having firmly dispatched the wild criticism and envied joy which came with the opening day defeat to Burnley, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea are looking as organised as the team who won lost season’s title.
Having defeated Leicester 3-0 on both occasions they played them and winning eight of their last ten league meetings with only a single loss, Chelsea will see themselves as comfortable favourites to win this fixture. Just as they were on the opening day of the season.
Last Time Out
Manchester United 2 – 0 LEICESTER CITY
Leicester held tight and defended admirably for the first 70 minutes, but were undone by a tactical decision.
After coming under a barrage of attacks from the first minute, the Foxes looked more than adept at dealing with the crosses that were coming into their box from the wings, with captain Wes Morgan and new signing Harry Maguire looking commanding in front of Kasper Schmeichel.
It looked like it may be their day when Schmeichel then saved a Romelu Lukaku penalty, however, Jose Mourinho switched the point of his attack to the central area with shorter balls and Shakespeare could not produce a solution to this new threat.
With Riyad Mahrez again the main outlet and focal point of Leicester’s attacks, the midfielder showed plenty of initiative and energy but could not create anything of significant value for either himself or his teammates.
CHELSEA 2 – 0 Everton
While perhaps some of the Everton players were naturally jaded following their midweek exploits in Europe that preceded this game, Chelsea dominated the Toffees in terms of energy as much as anything else.
Where they had looked disjointed in the first half against Burnley and during a match against Tottenham, where several of their main players were missing, this was the game in which Chelsea announced the real defence of their title.
Cesc Fabregas was again the player to pull Chelsea’s strings from the heart of midfield. After spending a large part of last season watching on from the bench, Fabregas has started this season as if he has a major point to prove.
With an 86% pass accuracy, many of which in attacking positions, he provided a real threat for his team which not only saw him create three clear opportunities for his side but also score the winning goal.
Leicester City Lineup
Robert Huth (ankle) and new signing Vicente Iborra (groin) are the only injury worries for Shakespeare ahead of this weekend with an unchanged team likely to be fielded for the fourth consecutive game this season.
Captain Gary Cahill remains unavailable through suspension after his opening day red card, while Eden Hazard and new signing Danny Drinkwater are yet to play this season and will lack in match fitness, though the former scored for Belgium over the international break.
Davide Zappacosta could be in line to make his Premier League debut following his £23m signing from Torino.
Key Battle: Riyad Mahrez vs Davide Zappacosta
The right side of the pitch is likely to be the most interesting place for each respective manager to watch in his team this weekend. For Leicester, they will likely start with Mahrez after he remains their player despite convincing the Algerian management last week he would ply his trade elsewhere.
Having featured prominently in every game for the Foxes so far this season, he will need to put any potential disappointment of a failed transfer to one side and deliver his match-winning skills for Leicester once more.
For Chelsea meanwhile, it is a transfer which took place who could find himself integral to his new team’s success. Zappacosta could step straight into the first team for Conte and add a right-wing threat which Alonso delivers down the left. It’s not just an attacking threat that the Italian needs to deliver, but ensure the right side of defence is well protected from the Algerian’s tricks.
Sticking with a trusted formula
Craig Shakespeare appears to be a manager of habit. When he took over the reigns from Claudio Ranieri last season he reverted the team back to their previous winning ways from their successful title-winning campaign. This was largely the team he fielded through the Foxes’ renaissance at the end of last season, a team which again proved that they could cope well at this level and in the Champions League’s latter stages too.
So far this season, Shakespeare has named the same starting lineup for each of the first three fixtures. Again, this is primarily sticking to his tried and tested formula as Leicester manager. With players like Kelechi Iheanacho (eight minutes) Demarai Gray (33 minutes) and Ben Chilwell (zero minutes) sidelined from the starting XI, the question of how long before he tries something new has reared its head.
The transfers that never happened
Chelsea and Antonio Conte continued to draw headlines throughout the summer and beginning of this season by the lack of success they had in the transfer market. With four top-quality players reportedly turning down their advances, a problem that Chelsea have never suffered in the past, it looks like Conte’s abrasive personality could have dissuaded players from joining.
Maybe these reports are untrue and Chelsea were played by players’ agents and the media alike, but there’s often little smoke without fire.
While most people thought Chelsea had suffered the worst summer for transfers in the Premier League, along come Leicester. First, Mahrez seemed convinced he was leaving the club after handing in a written transfer request. Then, after selling Drinkwater to Chelsea in the dying moments of the window on the understanding they had a replacement lined up, Adrien Silva’s paperwork was processed 14 seconds after the deadline.
Whatever has passed in the last few days, each manager now knows what they’re equipped with for the season ahead.
Strength in depth
One thing that was constantly aimed at Chelsea’s squad over recent weeks was the perceived lack of depth within their squad. With the fixture list soon to become congested for the London side, now is the time to see how well equipped for this campaign they are.
With almost a fully fit squad to choose from, Conte will plan for these upcoming games with a rotation of some key areas within his squad. Having bought predominantly defensive players into the club and, with Diego Costa unlikely play for Chelsea again, these problems look to be mainly in attack.
However, with Fabregas and Willian both being used heavily so far this season and both playing extremely well, this may not be the huge problem it was once made out to be. If Michy Batshuayi can find his feet in England and the roll of the injury dice is kind, Conte may just have the resources to pull off another surprise this season.
PREDICTION: Leicester City 1 – 1 Chelsea
Alvaro Morata likes to score goals with his head and it’s clear that Conte understands this in the way he deploys his wing-backs to break forward and supply ammunition from the byline. This might play into Leicester’s hands though, as they showed against Manchester United that they’re a solid unit in defending this kind of attack.
It promises to be a hard-fought game and I can see it being a deserved point apiece when the final whistle goes.
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