Sorry Sky, BT and the rest to spoil your fun but despite the defeat and the Costa meltdown we did a job on Saturday in the most emphatic and professional manner we could.
Most of us spent the previous evening feeling a little fed up. The story broke at circa 9pm that there had been a bust up involving Costa and he wasn’t travelling to Leicester. The calm persona of the club this season was about to be blown out of the water.
Our brains were scrambling to imagine the rest of the season without Costa and was this why Patrick Bamford had been called back (sorry Patrick)? Those of a certain vintage were thinking, here we go again, shooting ourselves in the foot just as everything was going so well but we overlooked one crucial aspect, Antonio Conte. There was no way he was going to let the situation derail our season.
So both the North London teams had won and the pressure was seriously on when we took to the field at 5.30pm. Nothing less than a point was going to be good enough and we needed to send out a message that losing in our last game and leading goal scorer was a blip and nothing more. This was going to be a big ask, we were playing the champions in front of their vociferous support. One thing that was in our favour was the African Nations Cup which left Leicester without 3 players albeit the way the game went I think only Mahrez may have had a significant effect.
As predicted Mitchy remained on the bench and the front 3 of Pedro Hazard and Willian started as they had on Boxing Day against Bournemouth. It seemed to me that this worked in our favour, whilst we lost the physical battle Diego would have been embroiled in with Huth and Morgan and the space and diversion that creates, the Leicester defenders now had no one to mark.
The game started with Thibault having to make a smart save and within 6 minutes we led. There have been several occasions this season when Alonso has been very close to scoring and on various occasions when he should have. It was he that passed the ball into the net from close range after a brilliant lay off from Hazard. The tinkerman had switched his defence to match ours which meant that Alonso was completely unmarked, their normal right back Danny Simpson sitting snugly in his anorak on the bench.
The goal will have undoubtedly settled us down but the first half was then a game of cat and mouse with both teams finding it difficult to retain possession. There was one more scare for our defence before half time but the returning Jamie Vardy had no service as Kante and the dominating Matic kept things under wraps.
We had noticeably turned things up a notch in the second half. The passing was quicker and we were moving the ball well. One of these slick movements led to Willian being fouled by the corner flag and the free kick having sensationally beaten the first man was headed out straight to Alonso. With the confidence of a proven goal scorer he rammed the ball goalwards and the slightest of deflections sent the ball into the corner of the net. When that happens you know it’s going to be your day and the timing of the goal at the beginning of the first half meant we were totally in control. From that moment on there was no way back for the hosts and a third goal followed but not before we had gone close with some brilliant pass and movement. Throughout all of this dominant display one man stood out, Matic. He was simply immense. He owned the midfield, it was as good a display as I’ve seen from him. He has certainly been back to his best this season albeit some continue to snipe as no one is apparently allowed an off day. His partnership with Kante is looking really solid and their protection of the three centre backs behind them crucial to the system we are playing.
The third goal emanated from some wonderful one touch football from the half way line culminating with Pedro heading home. It was just that he should get the goal as his flick to Willian was a thing of absolute beauty. I had read reservations about Pedro playing in away games after a less than impressive display at White Hart Lane but he proved against Leicester that this was nonsense and I would argue his performance eclipsed Hazard.
Also a mention for Thibault. A smart save early on followed by another solid performance. He came to claim the long throws and so took pressure off of the defence. It looked like this was worked on in training as there are times when I wonder why he appears reluctant to leave his six yard box. There were a couple of occasions when I felt him coming to claim the ball would have helped the defence out but on the basis he has more clean sheets than any other keeper in Europe this season, the question has to be what do I know? I suspect he is under instruction and he really is very good. I suspect the defenders have agreed this to be the case.
I was a guest of a Leicester fan at the game. From where I was sitting I could see the non-match day players. The young lads including Nathan Ake and Ola Aina were sitting there with JT. Not surprisingly captain leader legend was up when our goals went in together with Eduardo, I on the other hand had to remain in my seat remaining calm but inside going mad. Always a funny experience!
So Hull next. Their new manager appears to have got them going but one would hope with Diego back we can claim the three points. Everyone else will have played before us and so the pressure will be back on but in Conte we trust. Whatever he is doing it is working. Fascinating for me sitting “behind” him watching his antics directing like a conductor and trying to move all his the players into their positions.
Clayton Beerman Author of “Palpable Discord. A Year of drama and dissent at Chelsea” Published by Gate 17