Chelsea 0-1 Leicester City: Sarri proved correct as Blues title challenge ends
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Chelsea 0-1 Leicester City: Sarri proved correct as Blues title challenge ends

The Chelsea boss has insisted his side are not title contenders. He's right.

Harry Robinson

Maurizio Sarri reminded journalists and fans this week that he doesn't see his Chelsea side as title contenders. Defeat on Saturday afternoon to a struggling Leicester City confirmed that.

Claude Puel's narrow-tipped brown shoes had been frantically pacing up and down his technical area for 51 minutes when he gleefully watched Jamie Vardy pull away from the Chelsea goal in celebration after a first-time strike past Kepa.

After a penalty shoot-out defeat in midweek to Manchester City, Leicester City's supporters were eager to see Puel's decision to rest seven players for that fixture pay off. The under-pressure French manager will feel vindicated. In a week where Jose Mourinho was sacked, many agreed that Puel was also close to an Elvis Presley-style Blue Christmas. This buys him some significant rope.

Meanwhile, it was Man City's result, a 3-2 defeat to Crystal Palace, that will make this loss for Chelsea all the more painful for Maurizio Sarri in the final game before Christmas.

The Blues started the game seven points off City but made up no ground in a disappointing performance where they were reduced to long-range efforts far too frequently.

Story of the match

Chelsea were the better side of the first half, without doubt, but their inability to capitalise upon dominance has been a lingering problem. It's been most notable when they've surrendered leads or forced themselves into a backs-against-the-wall performance late on, but it was the same issue on Saturday afternoon.

Wes Morgan saw a headed effort for Leicester drift wide of the left post, while David Luiz's afro couldn't steer a near-post effort from Pedro into an empty net.

While Puel constantly berated his side's inability to hold the ball up on the counter-attack, Sarri will have been internally worried about the number of half-chances wasted by Chelsea.

Eden Hazard was involved more than anyone as always, but his best chance struck off the crossbar and flew upwards into the West London air. He'd stuck the ball through Harry Maguire's legs in the box to find himself with just the goalkeeper, and of course the crossbar, to beat.

The Belgian has publicly voiced his frustrations with the 'rotational fouling' that he is subjected to, whereby opposition players take it in turns to bring him to the ground to evade a referee's caution.

It was no different in the first half at Stamford Bridge. Hazard was subjected to a foul every five minutes or so. None of Chelsea's free-kick routines were effective, though.

Wilfried Ndidi forced a good save from Kepa with a shot driven powerfully towards the top right corner in a good spell for Leicester but the half-time whistle came at the wrong time for Chelsea who then took hold of the game.

Willian drew groans from the Shed End with a weak effort at Schmeichel after nice interplay on the edge of the box from Hazard and Pedro. Jorginho's long-range drive stung the palms of Leicester's Danish shotstopper.

But half-time did come for Chelsea, and soon after they re-emerged, with the December sky turning black, Leicester's Vardy gave the Foxes the lead.

Fed through by one of James Maddison's bright boots, Vardy watched the ball onto his right foot, shielded it from both Luiz and Willian and finished well into the right side of the goal. 

Chelsea's response was fine, but not sustained. Hazard's powerful strike at the near post from a tight angle saw Schmeichel response with an equally strong hand to push it wide. But Leicester's confidence grew when they realised that, unlike City in midweek, Chelsea are a team who will give you a chance to hold your lead.

Vardy and Maddison's counter-attacks, supported by Ben Chillwell, were regular. Kovacic and Willian departed for Loftus-Cheek and Giroud, with Hazard moved wide again to try and change his impact.

It took a while for Hazard to start asserting himself again, but he couldn't equal Gianfranco Zola's record of an assist in five consecutive matches for Chelsea. He had been sitting on four, but this was not a performance where he could be utterly relied upon. Chelsea's weakness at points shows just how much they need their main man to be on form and to stay.

Leicester's threat on the Chelsea goal didn't stop. Vardy's backheel was blocked by Azpilicueta and Albrighton saw Kepa get down quickly to stop his edge-of-the-box sweeping effort from doubling the Foxes' lead.

With the Leicester fans celebrating victory and the Stamford Bridge announcer just about to hold the microphone to his mouth to reveal the amount of added time, the Bridge began celebrating an equaliser. Marcos Alonso found himself one-on-one with Schmeichel and beat the Great Dane. But he watched his shot bounce back off the left post and then move gut-wrenchingly close to the right post before Leicester cleared.

Leicester defended their lead well but must learn to keep possession better while playing a side of this quality. Chelsea are out of the title race, barring a miraculous second half to the season. Claude Puel will have a peaceful Christmas after this victory. It had looked like he'd go into the festive period with the metaphorical axe hanging over his head.