As the boos rang out at halftime around the King Power Stadium, the game was 0-2 and already over. In fact, the moment Leicester’s team sheet was handed in and Rodgers had set Leicester up to match Chelsea’s 3-4-3 system, the game was done.
Leicester have always had tactical flexibility under Brendan Rodgers and he’s been happy to switch between a back 3 or 4 with frequent success. However in this moment, adapting to match Tuchel’s Chelsea’s was almost Leicester waving the white flag before a ball had been kicked. It was a tactical masterclass from Chelsea who are clearly a team thriving in their system they play week in week out with laser like precision and execution. It would be a familiar ‘set piece achilles heel’ for Leicester that would open the floodgates for Chelsea but tactically this game was totally dominated by the blues from the Kings Road.
The biggest difference between the two sides was arguably the roles of the wing backs. Whilst Reece James and Ben Chillwell spent the majority of the game flying forward for Chelsea, Timothy Castagne and Marc Albrighton were pinned back deep inside their own half for Leicester.
The first chance of the game came after just 3 minutes and was a strong indication of what would follow in the consequent 87 minutes; the chance fell to Chelsea and was a result of a wing back running behind. Jorginho did brilliantly to get straight back to his feet after being felled by Ndidi and quickly spot the run behind of Chilwell. Albrighton got caught both square and ball watching as the ball sailed easily over his head (he would have expected to defend the situation better). However, it was the position of Hudson-Odoi in the pocket that played a more subtle, but key role in the move. His positioning was just enough to attract Leicester’s right centre back (Daniel Amartey) forward and open even more space for Jorginho to land his forward pass and Chilwell to run into.
Then only a minute later we saw the difference. Leicester had a rare moment of possession with Schmeichel playing a short pass to Albrighton deep inside his own half. Chilwell was high and super aggressive to get tight deep inside the opposition half (something the Leicester wing backs were not really able to do at any point in the match). Chelsea clearly understood their roles when pressing in the 3-4-3 system but again it was those subtle details that made all the difference. Just like the role of Hudson-Odoi a minute earlier, this time is was Jorginho and Rudiger making short sprints to get tight to Ndidi and Lookman that meant Albrighton could only play back to his goalkeeper who was forced to play long. Vardy was of course no match for Thiago Silva in the air and possession swiftly returned to Chelsea. Only a team so well drilled in their system can execute with such detail and intensity. This enables more possession for Chelsea and allows their wing backs to get higher and wider, rather than being pinned back deep in their own half. You got the sense this was a case of 11 Chelsea players executing a well-rehearsed game plan to the letter. It would have come as no surprise to Tuchel with Chelsea dominating 77% possession inside the opening 8 minutes, this was all part of the plan.
It was quite fitting that a blocked cross from Reece James (playing high and wide on the right), would lead to the corner that resulted in the opening goal for Chelsea. There was an early sense of inevitability about Chelsea’s win. Every time Leicester were able to get their foot on the ball, Chelsea’s precision and intensity in their pressing meant a regain was a matter on seconds away. On the other hand, Leicester never found the answer or got tight enough to Chelsea’s players in the pockets or wing backs hugging the touchlines.
As a direct comparison, Reece James of Chelsea finished the match with 99 touches, 5 dribbles and 1 assist. Marc Albrighton had 61 touches and just 1 dribble. The numbers for the left wing backs were a lot closer in terms of touches and dribbles but Chilwell finished the match with an assist to his name and also had 3 shots, Castagne had none.
On this evidence, Chelsea are going to be hard to stop this season and a very tough nut to crack. Perhaps Rodgers has shown the rest of the league that simply matching Chelsea’s system is not the best way to play against them. At this point in time, no one can play like Chelsea as well as Chelsea can!