On Monday night, Chelsea travel to Leicester to face the second-place Foxes at the King Power Stadium. While it might seem a bit strange to see the league positions somewhat in reverse for those two teams, the table does not lie. Leicester City have been on an amazing run of form; a run that saw the Foxes survive near-certain relegation at the tail end of last season and has now seen them sitting in second place in the Premier League with a chance to go top of the table again with a win over the Blues.
As for Chelsea, the signs of revival are once again rearing its head. Facing a pressure-filled fixture against Porto where a result was a must, the Blues produced their best performance of the season winning 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, but more importantly, there seemed to be a renewed sense of determination and an intensity that has been largely missing this season. Players were trying things, closing down, winning challenges, and playing with a sharpness and quickness that was evident in last season’s title-winning run.
But the Blues have been here before. Every flicker of a return to form has been met with a subsequent bitter disappointment. However, there was something about the way that Chelsea played last Wednesday night that gave a sense of hope. Diego Costa was finally making runs into dangerous goal-scoring positions, while Eden Hazard began to look like the dynamic playmaker that won last season’s Player of the Year.
Leicester’s 2015 has been rather remarkable. Back at the end of March, the Foxes were coming off a 3-4 loss to Tottenham and sat bottom of the table with 22 points and looked nailed-on for relegation, having not won a single match in the league for two months. Starting on 4 April with a win over West Ham, Leicester City would rattle off the run of all runs to escape relegation, winning 7 of their last 9 to finish the 2014-2015 seasons, with their lone defeat at home to Chelsea and their lone draw away to Sunderland.
The sacking of Nigel Pearson and subsequent hiring of Claudio Ranieri hasn’t derailed Leicester City, and that form simply continued on into this season with the Foxes losing just once this season, making it just two defeats since 4 April.
Give some credit to the Leicester manager. When Ranieri was appointed, eyebrows were raised, particularly because he’s been away from the Premier League for a long time and his most-recent appointment was with the Greek National Team, who lost to the Faroe Islands under his charge. However, Ranieri took an “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” approach to this Leicester side, keeping many of the same principles of hard work and tactical discipline and merging them with a dangerous counterattacking game that takes advantage of their two biggest weapons: the pace and finishing ability of Jamie Vardy and the pace and skill of Riyad Mahrez.
If there are two players that have stood out for Leicester this season, it has been the aforementioned Vardy and Mahrez. Vardy’s journey has been well documented, and he had a lot of struggles last season in finding the back of the net. But this season, there’s a confidence about him, and that’s led to him scoring in 12 consecutive matches and leading the race for the Golden Boot with 14 goals. His partner in crime, Mahrez, has been just as good, showing great skill on the wing and also chipping in with 10 league goals of his own.
Monday night will not be an easy task for Chelsea, though, against a Leicester City side that does present a considerable threat on the counterattack and possesses a team spirit that makes them very tough to beat. Win Monday night, and the belief that Chelsea might be returning to form will be a real possibility. Lose Monday night, and it’s right back to square one for Jose Mourinho and his underperforming team.