Leicester V Chelsea Preview : A place at Wembley is at stake!
- King Power Stadium
- Kick off: 16:30
Just like Manchester United discovered after falling to Sevilla in the Champions League, the FA Cup represents Chelsea's last chance at silverware this season following their exit in Europe at the hands of Barcelona. Lionel Messi put on a real show to cast the Blues aside by scoring three of Barcelona's four goals in their 4-1 aggregate win - and he assisted the other. However, unlike Man United's limp exit, Chelsea can feel proud of how they attacked Barcelona over the two games and will have no regrets about how they battled the Catalan giants. Still, they only have one win in their last five as a result and a place in the FA Cup semi-finals with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City already out would be the perfect tonic. By the same token, Leicester would love to cap off an average season with some glory of their own and with the talent they have at their disposal, there's no reason why they cannot upset Chelsea.
It's kind of crazy when you look back at the Leicester team that won the league title nearly two years ago. What's even more confusing is the fact that they have retained many of the talents that took them to that tremendous feat. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez (just about) both remain at the club in addition to mainstays like Kasper Schmeichel, Danny Simpson, Christian Fuchs, Wes Morgan and Shinji Okazaki. Players like Demari Gray, Harry Maguire, Ben Chilwell and Wilfred Ndidi have improved the team since then by either joining the club or making great strides, but the losses of Danny Drinkwater and, especially N'Golo Kante seem to be felt the hardest. The Foxes are unbeaten in their last four games and it's no wonder that has coincided with Mahrez being restored to the team after the deadline day drama. Leicester are still one of the best counter-attacking sides in the Premier League right now and Vardy's wonder goal away at West Brom last time out is a prime example of what Claude Puel's men are capable of. It's a shame that a slew of big-money signings like Ahmed Musa and Islam Slimani never quite worked out, but the Foxes are very dangerous, especially in a one-off cup tie situation.
Conte must bounce back
Chelsea deserved better from their two-legged affair against Barcelona, but there's not much you can do when Lionel Messi decides to play at the peak of his powers. The Blues have more pressing, in-house issues to worry about anyway. It seems that Antonio Conte has totally lost faith with Alvaro Morata at this point and the Italian is currently rotating between Eden Hazard as a false-nine - which is looking like a waste of his talents - and Olivier Giroud, who operates like a traditional target man. Things started out well enough for Morata, but after missing several one-on-ones in the two-legged EFL Cup semi-final clash with Arsenal, Conte's confidence in him appears to have waned. Elsewhere, David Luiz and Gary Cahill were missing in Barcelona and that has forced Andreas Christensen to grow up fast. It seems like Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta are his natural partners right now and Cesc Fabregas is patrolling the midfield with former Leciester man N'Golo Kante. It helps that Willian might be playing the best football of his career at the moment and is in red-hot form so Chelsea have the match-winners to snap this slump.
What they are saying
Antonio Conte wasn't too downbeat after Chelsea lost to Barcelona on Wednesday, the Italian believed his Chelsea side gave a good account of themselves and Lionel Messi was the difference: "We have no regrets," he said. "If you watch the game, you can see the final result is unfair. We are talking about the best player in the world. He scores 60 goals every season - he is a super top player. Barcelona were very clinical. We didn't deserve to lose 3-0," said Conte. "We were a bit unlucky. I think we created many chances but we didn't take them. I must be very proud about my players - they gave everything and we have to continue in this way, with this will to fight and desire to fight together."
Leciester boss Claude Puel thinks if Leicester can get the frst goal against Chelsea, they'll go on to win the game: “We need a little more confidence in our game,” said Puel. “We have had chances at the beginning of the games, like the last game against Bournemouth when we had a one-on-one with Riyad Mahrez. He could score after 10 minutes but wasn’t successful. Perhaps in another game he makes the difference. When we score first it is good for the confidence of the team and we can play with freedom and confidence. The last games are difficult because we didn’t score first and always playing from behind is difficult. The players give their best but it is important to find confidence, a good clinical edge, and sometimes we lack that clinical edge."
Considering this game is being played at the King Power Stadium, recent history actually favours Chelsea. The Blues have won on their past three visits to Leicester and have only lost once overall in their last 15 - a record that stretches back to 2001 and features only two draws. Although the sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge back in January, the four games before that featured over 2.5 goals and two of which where both teams scored. Given that it's an open cup tie, Chelsea to win and both teams to score looks like a sensible bet and Conte will be desperate to take his Chelsea side to Wembley with the top four looking like a difficult task and their Champions League dreams in the dust.
- Leicester have only beaten Chelsea once in their last 15 games
- Chelsea have won in their last three visits to the King Power Stadium
- Chelsea only have one win in their last five games
- Leciester are unbeaten in their last four games with two wins
- Leicester and Chelsea drew 0-0 back in January