Following his side’s 2-0 loss at White Hart Lane to Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte would probably have been hoping for a quiet build-up to Chelsea’s next league game away at the champions, Leicester. However, the Italian wasn’t afforded such a luxury, as Diego Costa hit the headlines for a rumoured training ground “bust-up”.
Whatever the truth may be, it was revealed that Costa would not be travelling to make the game and that Chelsea would be forced to do without their top goal scorer.
Although missing Costa, Chelsea weren’t unfamiliar with fielding a team not featuring the naturalised Spaniard. Against Bournemouth in December, with Costa serving a suspension, Chelsea opted to field Eden Hazard up front and came out 3-0 winners. Against the champions, it was a similar story.
Chelsea cruised to victory and in doing so sent out a worrying message for their title rivals. Despite lacking their first-choice striker and focal point, Chelsea comfortably created chances and finished them. With two goals coming from left wing-back Marcos Alonso, Chelsea proved that they have the capability to score goals from anywhere.
Since Conte switched Chelsea into his favoured 3-4-3 formation, teams have struggled to break his side down. In searching for a way to counter Chelsea’s tactics, Everton manager Ronald Koeman attempted to mirror Chelsea and found his side on the wrong end of a 5-0 battering. However, Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino similarly mirrored Chelsea’s formation and served the Conte his first loss since September.
In round 22 of the Premier League Antonio Conte and his men will face Hull City on Stamford Bridge. Find out what the end of this game will be and many more football predictions in the Premier League of this weekend.
Looking to repeat Pochettino’s success, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri sent his side out in a 3-5-2 formation, attempting to overwhelm Chelsea in the middle of the park with Ndidi, Mendy and Drinkwater, only to find his side outplayed by a well-versed Chelsea team.
Conte’s side made a strong start to the game by opening the scoring in the sixth minute. An unmarked Marcos Alonso curled the ball in with his weaker right foot from close range after Leicester failed to deal with a dangerous ball into the area from Cesar Azpilicueta.
Chelsea then doubled their lead shortly after the half-time break in the 51st minute, with Alonso on the score sheet once more. The ball fell to the Spaniard on the edge of the area following a free-kick from Willian, and his deflected effort bounced in just out of the reach of Kasper Schmeichel.
Leicester failed to react to either setback and only managed two shots on target throughout the entire game. Chelsea, now comfortably in control, looked to close the game out and possibly add more to their lead.
They did so in the 71st minute, when Pedro poked home a rare header. Peeling off of his marker, Pedro linked up brilliantly with Willian who, under pressure from Schmeichel, dinked a ball into his Spanish teammate, who headed the ball into the open goal unchallenged.
Although impressing without their top goal scorer, Chelsea and Conte will be sweating if reports are to be believed. Diego Costa reportedly received a lucrative offer from China, which caused the “bust-up” that led to him missing out on the trip to the King Power. Despite proving that they can score goals from anywhere, it would be a huge blow to Chelsea’s title hopes if Costa were to leave this January. Going one game against a struggling side without your star striker is one thing, going half the season without him is another.
Up next for Chelsea are Hull City at home and then Liverpool and Arsenal back-to-back. In a key part of the season, the league leaders can ill-afford to lose their top goal scorer, who seems to also have curbed his nasty streak during games. Of course, a replacement would be possible, but not ideal with just half the transfer window remaining.