by frontiers | January 13, 2018 10:07 pm
Chelsea heaved in search of a winner deep into stoppage time here, the locals howling in exasperation as Kasper Schmeichel turned Marcos Alonso’s free-kick round a post, but plucking a victory from this mess of a display would have been an injustice. Too much of what they had offered up was inadequate. Discontent is welling in these parts and, for the first time, some of it is being directed at the dugout.
There were boos when Eden Hazard, for the fourth time in four starts, did not see out the game, and another disgruntled chorus to greet the final whistle. A third successive goalless draw represents a club record and underlines that this team’s domestic campaign has rather run aground. Leicester made them feel so ineffective, of course, and more than merited reward for a display that verged on dominance until the last half-hour. Yet the champions, even with their cluttered schedule, should offer more than this.
They have become too predictable, too overreliant for comfort upon their Belgium forward and with too few team-mates contributing at Hazard’s side. Álvaro Morata is enduring a lull in his first season in these parts and, one dart to the byline aside, was anonymous until booked three minutes from time, but the striker’s crisis in confidence is seeping into other areas of this collective. In the aftermath of Schmeichel’s save, Victor Moses sliced a shot so wide it almost drifted out for a throw-in. That, or Antonio Rüdiger dawdling in possession to be robbed by Jamie Vardy inside Chelsea’s penalty area, was more typical of his team’s display.
Antonio Conte was apparently not looking for excuses but cited the quick turnaround from Wednesday’s draining draw against Arsenal as key to this lethargic display. “I saw a lot of players very tired, very tired,” he said. “We suffered a lot in the first half and at the start of the second.” He cited fatigue for his decision to remove Hazard and Cesc Fàbregas just before the hour mark and pointed to the burst of energy provided by Pedro and Willian as key to a slightly more acceptable last 20 minutes. “But we must improve if we want to score and to win.” There have been four successive draws since the turn of the year.
The visitors might normally have been satisfied having played the last 22 minutes with their number depleted after the dismissal of Ben Chilwell, but the better chances and more coherent play had always been theirs. “If it had finished 11 versus 11, we would have got the win,” offered Claude Puel. His own players, their schedule less energy sapping and recovery time awarded in midweek, were sprightly in comparison and had swarmed over their hosts for long periods. No visiting team has managed as many as Leicester’s 12 first-half attempts since the first season of the Roman Abramovich era in south-west London. It was Chelsea’s good fortune that none was taken.
It was profligacy, a lack of “cutting edge” according to Puel, which saw them survive. An experienced back three were tormented by the pace of Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who would still blot his copybook with a second-half dive over Andreas Christensen’s outstretched leg in search of a penalty. Gary Cahill had started ahead of the young Dane as the back-line’s central pivot, though he was left dizzied by a brutal first half-hour and would eventually depart prematurely clutching his right hamstring. It was telling that Christensen, rather than David Luiz, was summoned as a replacement.
By then, the contest should have been settled. Shinji Okazaki, poking awkwardly over the bar, and Vardy, who guided a shot into the side-netting, had both benefited from Chilwell’s fine delivery early on. Wilfred Ndidi thought he had registered at Mahrez’s deflected corner only for Thibaut Courtois to conjure a save at full stretch, with a succession of centres fizzed across Chelsea’s goalline somehow eluding Leicester’s players. There would be further opportunities after the break, with Courtois static and helpless as Mahrez’s shot catapulted off Christensen and dribbled just beyond a post.
Rarely under Conte’s stewardship has this side been so disjointed. their set-up clumsy and tentative in the face of their opponents’ frantic press, and uncertainty prevailing with so many players straining to rediscover form and rhythm. Even Hazard could not haul them from their malaise, the Belgian overelaborating in his desperation to make an impact. Conte was asked post-match about José Mourinho’s apparent “contempt” for him but merely batted it back with: “I’m not worried.” His team’s displays will be causing him far more concern.
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