Leicester City host Chelsea on Saturday lunchtime as they look to bounce back from the disappointment of their League Cup Semi Final defeat at the hands of Aston Villa on Tuesday night. As in the first leg between the sides, it was a matter of not making their chances counts before being stung on the counter attack, and Chelsea will take heart from the vulnerabilities starting to appear in Leicester’s defence.
A cup win away at Hull last weekend for Chelsea was just the response Frank Lampard needed following another disappointing performance in front of goal against Arsenal, where they wasted multiple opportunities before being caught out on the break by the Gunners.
A massive game in the race for European football, both sides will be looking to make a statement and reinforce their top four credentials, and it should make for a thrilling encounter come Saturday.
The first meeting between the two sides came in Frank Lampard’s first home game of the season, and Brendan Rodgers’ side were able to give Lampard’s side a real scare as they showed their credentials as a top Premier League side in the 1-1 draw, where if it wasn’t for wastefulness in front of goal from James Maddison and an individual Wilfried N’Didi mistake, they would’ve run out deserved winners.
It would be no surprise to see the game take a similar, open shape as both sides look to press high and move the ball quickly in possession, and both sides’ managers will have learnt plenty about their respective sides since then.
Lampard opted to start Olivier Giroud up front that day, and although the Frenchman’s eye for goal cannot be underestimated, it highlighted how he didn’t fit Lampard’s pressing system, whilst also struggling to make the runs in behind defences that subsequently stretch the opposition and leave space for Chelsea’s more creative midfielders, so as a result, it has seen him struggle for game time since. However, Tammy Abraham’s untimely injury against Arsenal has meant he is an injury doubt for this clash, and this could cause a problem for Lampard tactically, as he tries to shoehorn Michy Batshuayi into the side following struggles to find reinforcements in January.
If Abraham is absent, this will subsequently have a huge bearing on the game, and impact upon both Chelsea and Leicester’s tactics, and could see some interesting tactical tinkering from Lampard in particular.
From Leicester’s point of view, the absence of Abraham will allow Rodgers to play a higher line for his side, with less pace in behind to worry about, whilst also allowing the Foxes to press the Chelsea defence much higher, something that Chelsea have shown a vulnerability to throughout the season. Lampard has alleviated this concern in some games with a back five, but after it backfired against Arsenal at the Emirates, which subsequently saw Emerson taken off before half time, he is most likely to stick to a back four and find another way to cope.
Chelsea are likely to line up in their 4-3-3, with a midfield trio of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, and it will be Jorginho in particular who could hold the key for Lampard’s side, particularly against the press of Leicester and allowing Chelsea to counter attack. Kovacic’s ability to drive on the ball is often under-estimated and this allows his team to move up the pitch quickly, whilst Kante’s energy alongside him means they will offer up a counter attacking threat, so Lampard may look to invite Leicester on to attack. By sitting deeper, this also warns against the pace of Leicester’s forwards, whether Jamie Vardy if fit, or Kelechi Iheanacho, who is equally as adept at moving in behind a high line.
By inviting on the Leicester pressure, it does mean that Ben Chillwell and Ricardo Pereira will be invited on for the Foxes at full back, and this will subsequently leave spaces in behind for Chelsea’s wingers to exploit, a tactic they worked to perfection away at Tottenham, with Willian in particular impressing. This battle will be key, as Leicester will look also look to target these wide areas, particularly the flank opposite to where Willian is situated, as it often highlights a lack of defensive support.
Emerson’s defensive vulnerabilities were highlighted in the draw against Arsenal for Hector Bellerin’s equaliser, and once again the tricky Pereira will offer up a strong threat in these areas. However, Reece James is expected to return, allowing the defensively astute Azpilicueta to switch to full back on the opposite flank, and this will make for a more resilient backline, all be it still with potential issues of wingers tracking back.
The return of Wilfred N’Didi has been huge for Rodgers’ side, and he has quickly learnt from his mistakes when without the influential Nigerian, with Dennis Praet and Youri Tielemans struggling to offer the same tenacity in midfield. N’Didi, much like he was in the return fixture, will be key to the Foxes hope, with his positioning, tackling ability and energy key to stopping the Chelsea counter attack, and will mean that Leicester can play their preferred higher line as a result.
Villa’s opener on Tuesday night did highlight a particular area of vulnerability for Leicester, and Chelsea may look to exploit this once again. Matt Targett was able to overlap as Grealish drifted inside for Villa, and with Ayoze Perez struggling to cope and track back, it created a number of openings for Villa. Lampard could look to exploit this in a similar fashion, especially if opting for Willian on the left wing, who can fulfil the role Grealish played on Tuesday, thus opening up space for the left back to overlap. An area to look out for when the line ups are announced, it could open up some interesting markets regarding player shots, especially if the Foxes are to be as open as on Tuesday.
The open nature of the game expected, coupled with the defensive vulnerabilities of both sides that have become evident in recent weeks, means that there are two stand out markets to focus on.
Firstly, I would expect goals in this game, and the underlying statistics behind both sides, coupled with the counter attacking talents available to both managers, means that Over 2.5 goals and both teams to score is appealing at 1.90 (Bet365). Although Abraham will be a miss, Lampard has shown he is more than capable of adapting to this, and as seen in their dominant win over Tottenham, he is happy for his side to sit off and counter, with Willian in particular being fundamental to this break. They are showing defensive vulnerabilities themselves, and it has been a matter of missing chances rather than not creating for the Foxes, and with Vardy expected to return, it reinforces the chances of goals.
The open nature of the game does mean that cards appeal, and this is despite Leicester’s excellent disciplinary record this season. With both sides looking to counter, as well as having players packed with pace and the ability to take players on, a game which could open up with the prospect of goals also means that the card markets take appeal, and the bet builder on Bet365 offers up this angle. For Chelsea to have over 1.5 cards, and Leicester over 0.5 cards, it provides odds of 2.0 (Bet365), and I would expect the midfielders in both sides to be particularly susceptible to this, particularly when stopping the break. Lee Mason takes charge, and with 53 yellow cards in 18 games, he is a more lenient of referees, but from a purely tactical stand point, the card markets do stand out.