It may seem like an unusual conclusion to draw as the other game was an FA Cup final, but this Premier League clash was the most important of Chelsea’s two successive meetings with Leicester City for Thomas Tuchel.
The Blues are set to take home the silverware and a trophy at Wembley last weekend would certainly have been a notable achievement for a manager who only took control at the end of January. That said, it’s a club that ultimately defines itself by competing for the biggest prizes and if there was any consolation from Saturday’s loss it was the team’s response in a relentless 2- win. 1 over Leicester in front of 8,000 fans at Stamford Bridge.
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These supporters have played their part here. Social media can skew judgments about how fans perceive certain players and while Timo Werner has undoubtedly been targeted as he builds up a rather staggering string of calamities in front of goal, those who are lucky enough to be inside the stadium gave him only fervent support all evening.
In that game he was taken offside for the 41st time, the worst in the league. He finished it scoreless – he scored one for offside and another for handball – extending his run to just four in his last 42 games for club and country. But in between, he worked tirelessly to squeeze, harass and cajole a Leicester side who may still be wearing the celebrations of their first FA Cup success just three days ago.
James Maddison hinted at a long evening of fun in his pre-game interview and the Foxes were collectively slow to march against a Chelsea side driven by a sense of revenge, the surprising amount of noise this stadium can make when a fifth full, and knowing the victory would place them a touching distance from a top-four standings.
Beating Manchester City at Porto will be tough enough without the added pressure of knowing failure will mean missing Europe’s premier competition next season. The job is not done, but it will now be Leicester who look over their shoulders most nervously after being beaten all over the pitch.
Werner was at the center of everything here even though he hadn’t scored. He had a goal ruled out for offside – of course – having already been severely denied to a penalty after being sent off by Yuri Tielemans. He was then sidelined with a second goal after handling the ball into the net at close range as Chelsea entered the break, unable to translate their vast scoring superiority.
Two minutes after the resumption, Antonio Rudiger finally led the home side ahead, Chelsea’s 10th goal from a corner this season, the Premier League’s best mark. Stressing that a strength of one team meets an acute weakness of another, only Leeds (11) conceded more goals from a corner than Leicester (nine).
Werner was then involved in his fourth VAR incident of the evening as Wesley Fofana’s foul on the Germany international was judged inside the box during the exam. Jorginho stepped up and, with his characteristic momentum, calmly hit the penalty spot.
It should have been that, but Leicester sparked a nervous finish when substitute Kelechi Iheanacho shot at home with 14 minutes left after a gift from Chelsea at the back. Fans have kept Chelsea, serenading Werner throughout and this show of support could allow him to show the same confidence on the pitch that he has outside.
“The first half was like a mirror of the whole season for me,” he told the BBC. “Always close, then at the end not really. When you’re young and in the Champions League final, that’s not a problem.”
Chelsea still needed to survive a shocking late failure by Ayoze Perez, who shot unmarked from 16 yards after Ricardo Pereira achieved an excellent reduction in the right flank.
A brief altercation involving most of the players – with Daniel Amartey an unused but heavily involved substitute after being seen throwing the Chelsea pennant to the ground during Saturday’s celebrations – sparked a literal fight against the one they had taken to Leicester all over the place. the evening .
Chelsea have two games left in the season, but they have their fate in their hands. After successive defeats to Arsenal and Leicester last week, Tuchel’s rhetoric suggested he was desperate to restore his old rhythm.
“Now is not the time to give extra praise,” he said. “Enjoy, shut up, enjoy your day off and get ready for Sunday. I don’t feel comfortable celebrating now, I’m just saying what’s needed.”