The last time these two teams met in the league was on the final day of last season when Leicester were celebrating their unlikely and brilliant championship, Claudio Ranieri was given a guard of honour and Chelsea were peeking under the sticking plasters to see if the wounds of Jose Mourinho’s painful departure had healed while they contemplated a season out of Europe.
Five months on and the tables have turned somewhat and here at Stamford Bridge on a mild afternoon Chelsea won 3-0 courtesy of first-half goals from Diego Costa and Eden Hazard and a third from Victor Moses with 10 minutes to go.
It could have been worse for the champions although they improved in the second half: Chelsea were dominant, especially in the first 45 minutes, with Costa a handful for Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, Hazard flitting here and there and N’Golo Kante patrolling the midfield with aplomb.
While Leicester struggle to hit the giddy heights of last season – they have eight points from eight games – for Chelsea, while all is not tickety-boo, as the 3-0 hammering by Arsenal earlier in the season showed, there are signs of life – and twice as many points as the Foxes – under Antonio Conte.
The Italian manager adopted the three-man defence that worked so well against Hull City a fortnight ago – although it was barely tested here – with Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta at the back and Moses and Marcos Alonso on the flanks.
It worked a treat in the early stages with the home side dominating possession and the visitors struggling to gain a foothold. Kante, the little dynamo that was so influential in Leicester winning the league last season, was constantly on the ball but in the blue of Chelsea of course. He was booed by a small section of the visiting fans who know what a loss he is.
Ranieri, who left his Algerian duo Riyad Mahrez and £29m Islam Slimani on the bench until the last half hour perhaps with Copenhagen in mind, was urging his team to move up the pitch as early as the fifth minute but to no avail. Moses got free on the wing and fired in a shot that Kasper Schmeichel turned behind for a corner on the right.
Eden Hazard drilled the ball across goal, Nemanja Matic, making a run across the front post flicked it on with the outside of his boot to Costa, completely unmarked and ambling towards the six-yard line. Schmeichel was only able to turn the Spaniard’s side-footed shot into the roof of the net. It is his seventh league goal of the season.
Leicester offered little in the way of a response with Jamie Vardy isolated up front and unable to latch on to Danny Drinkwater’s attempted through balls with Luiz dropping deep. Ranieri has admitted he is working on the training ground on how best to employ Vardy, Slimani and Mahrez in attack. The Italian needs to nail it fast with the Champions League back in swing in the week.
On 32 minutes Huth and full-back Luis Hernandez went for the same through ball down the middle of the pitch but Hernandez only deflected it rather than clearing it, allowing the prone Pedro to flick on to Hazard. The Belgian coolly rounded Schmeichel and rolled the ball home to double Chelsea’s lead.
It could have already been worse for the Foxes. Five minutes earlier Luiz had hit the post with one of his dipping side-foot free-kicks with Schmeichel at full stretch. Just before the break he tried it again but the Leicester keeper punched clear.
Conte, who even found time to nonchalantly trap an errant ball, must have liked what he was watching although you would never have known it from his volcanic touchline temperament.
Ranieri joined in the berating as the second half ticked on and Leicester began to enjoy some possession. Jeff Schlupp was blocked in the box and asked, forlornly, for a penalty. It was Chelsea though who nearly scored again when Kante and Moses broke from a corner. The former sped down the left and bent a beautiful pass into the path of the latter whose first-time shot was saved low to his right by Schmeichel.
But the Foxes were finding their feet and almost halved the deficit when Luis turned Albrighton’s cross onto his own post. It was as good as it got though.
Conte, now dangerously close to spontaneously combusting, introduced Nathan Chalobah for Pedro and Chelsea resumed their earlier dominance. Kante came close to capping a fine display with a goal in the 72nd minute but Morgan brilliantly blocked his shot from 10 yards after Costa’s cross cannoned off Schmeichel and Matic’s shot was then scrambled away by the Danish keeper.
But the pressure told with 10 minutes to go when Chelsea added their third. Moses cut in from the right wing to the edge of the box and his pass was brilliantly returned to him by Chalobah’s back-heel. The winger tucked his finish beneath Schmeichel to complete the victory.
Reasons to be cheerful for Chelsea who, of course, have a clear week to hone their tactics. For Leicester it’s back to work before Copenhagen visit on Tuesday. Such is life as champions.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses (Aina 80), Kante, Matic, Alonso; Hazard (Loftus-Cheek, 80), Costa, Pedro (Chalobah 66). Substitutes not used: Begovic, Batshuayi, Terry, Solanke.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Hernandez, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Schlupp (Mahrez 66), Amartey, Drinkwater, Albrighton (King 73); Vardy, Musa (Slimani 66). Substitutes not used: Zieler, Simpson, Gray, Ulloa, Mahrez.