Claudio Ranieri found a way to solve the problem of introducing so many new players into the team. He didn’t.
Against Leicester, the Chelsea manager relied primarily on those who were here last season with only Claude Makelele and Joe Cole new faces in the starting lineup.
And it worked. The once-great strike partnership of JFH and Eidur Gudjohnsen were reunited and showed the same defence-splitting understanding that had torn apart defences two seasons ago.
Playing 4-4-2, we came out flying, creating chance after chance for Jimmy who had the speed to get behind the shaky Leicester back four, but not the quickness to finish the chances. He had already had two gilt-edged openings before he put us ahead with a nifty flick after a great run and cross by Joe Cole who showed up on the right side of the penalty area despite his role as the left-sided midfielder.
You sensed that early goal might be enough because Leicester were creating nothing in open play and you only feared for a set piece play because of their ability in the air and our propensity for giving up such goals. But Carlo was coming off his line confidently for all crosses and they failed to register a serious effort on goal in the whole first half. We went in at half time with a two-goal lead when JFH lashed a 25-yard free kick that deflected off Dabizas, wrong-footing Walker in goal. It was no less than we deserved after a dominating performance in which Cole was the most prominent in midfield.
The second half was as dismal a display of football as you’ll see with Leicester pumping long high balls down the middle and Chelsea responding in kind. It was dull, dull stuff but with a two-goal lead we didn’t much care, although Cudicini was forced to pull off one spectacular save, his only stop of the game, from a Davison piledriver. Ranieri made his substitutions bringing on Geremi for Gronkjaer, Mutu for Gudjohnsen, and finally Gallas for Cole, who had faded to invisibility by this time.
Our lack of ambition was a bit frustrating because this was the perfect opportunity for Mutu to break his goal drought and for us to give our goal difference a boost.
In the end, it happened. Mutu picked up the ball just inside the half on the left side and burst diagonally on goal before lashing a wonderfully bending shot from 25 yards with JFH providing a diversion with a run across goal. In the last minutes, Babayaro, who had been moved into midfield with Gallas’s arrival, latched on to a mistake by a Leicester defender to thunder a left-footed shot past Walker to confirm the gulf in class between these two sides.
So what’s Ranieri to do now? The old boys performed well, especially JFH and Gudjohnsen, and you wonder how he will find space for Mutu and Crespo when he’s fit. I think Jimmy seems to play better when he’s left out, so we’ll have to see. With Crespo injured, Jimmy will probably stay in for a few games, but he won’t often come up against a back line quite as inept as Leicester’s.