Chelsea had a chance on Tuesday to continue piecing together a decent run of results following back to back wins against Morecambe and Fulham, after the horrible run of form throughout the festive period of the season—which has seen an increasing amount of pressure piled on Frank Lampard. Instead, the Blues were played off the park at the King Power Stadium against a Leicester side who was better in executing its press, defending the final third, committing players on the attack and even in terms of its collective desire to come away with all three points. In the end, two first-half goals from the dominant home side proved too much for the Blues to overcome, leaving Lampard ever so closer to the sack.
Here’s three things we learnt in the match:
1. A poor team selection
As much as Lampard frequently lambasts his players for not showing enough heart and desire on the pitch, a huge part of Tuesday’s embarrassing defeat was down to the decisions that he made tactically and personnel wise. The decision to continue with a centreback partnership of Antonio Rudiger and Thiago Silva, for instance, was quite simply puzzling. For starters, the German centreback has made just nine appearances all season and his recent outings against Morecambe and Fulham have done nothing to support his claim for a starting berth in place of the outstanding Kurt Zouma. While the decision to start Rudiger on Saturday against Fulham could be placed down to a need for rotation, his continued presence in the line-up against Leicester was just as surprising as it was unwarranted—and it showed.
Rudiger was directly at fault for the second goal Chelsea conceded when he marked Jamie Vardy too tightl, only to see the ball bounce past the pair for a completely unmarked James Maddison to roll the ball past Edouard Mendy. While it certainly is not ideal to be this close to an opposition striker in the box, Rudiger’s mistake became fatal when he failed to win the crucial aerial duel with Vardy. To make matters worse, Rudiger actually pushed Vardy down onto the ground in the course of marking him, a decision that would’ve undoubtedly resulted in the concession of a penalty had Maddison not scored seconds after. It was a truly embarrassing piece of defending which just about sums up the centreback’s night at the King Power.
As for the first goal which resulted from a Leicester corner, the German most certainly cannot be blamed for Wilfred Ndidi’s scuffed effort somehow curling into the back of the net. There is, however, certainly a case to be made that Kurt Zouma’s inclusion in the back line would have offered the kind of presence that could very well have prevented the ball from ending up at the feet of Ndidi in the first place.
Further upfield, Lampard’s decision to start Mateo Kovacic as the holding midfielder in place of Billy Gilmour was perhaps done in anticipation of Leicester’s strong pressing game, during which the Croat’s ability to dribble out of trouble would prove useful. However, against a midfield duo of Ndidi and Youri Tielemans, Kovacic was simply unable to dictate play of any sorts from his deep-lying position. Moreover, when his attempted dribbles were unsuccessful, Kovacic would often find himself out of position, which in turn contributed greatly to the team being constantly caught open on the break. It was a situation worsened by Chelsea having to chase the game right from the get-go after conceding just seven minutes into the match. Lampard’s subsequent decision not to bring on Gilmour in the second half to reestablish control in midfield ceded full control of the game to Leicester, a decision which would ultimately prove decisive in deciding the course of the game.
At the end of the day, hindsight is 20/20 and it is always easy to criticise a manager for not making the correct calls when analysing a match in its aftermath. However, with Lampard marching ever so closer to watching his young tenure as Chelsea manager come to an end, the Englishman simply has to get more of these decisions right than wrong if he is to stand any chance of seeing out the season still at the helm at SW6.