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article imageChelsea and Leicester play role reversal in current BPL season

By Tyrrell Meertins     Dec 14, 2015 in Sports
Glen Murray’s second half winner at Stamford Bridge signified a possible beginning of the end for Chelsea in last week's 1-0 loss to Premier League newcomers Bournemouth.
A season filled with multiple off-the-field issues and several disappointing results has reached its breaking point. Domestically, it appears that there’s no return — crowned Premier League champions last May, Jose Mourinho’s men represent what may be the worst title defence in the league’s history.
Frankly, the pattern of the Bournemouth loss was a recurring theme that’s transpired in several Chelsea losses this season — they didn’t deserve to lose, but were far from worthy winners. One defensive breakdown from a Bournemouth corner kick resulted in a goal, and for all of Chelsea’s extended spells of possession, the Blues created few legitimate goal-scoring opportunities. In 90 minutes, Chelsea’s on-field issues were constantly exposed, as newly promoted Bournemouth defended superbly and executed one of their few chances.
Mourinho’s experimented different systems and pairing by dropping players throughout the season, and even with a nearly fit squad at his disposal, Chelsea can’t seem to rid their poor form. More so, it’s difficult to overlook the fact that dressing room leaders in Petr Cech, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba have left over the past two seasons. Likewise, Mourinho and the board's failed attempt to improve the quality of the starting XI over the summer, now see opposing teams fearlessly attack the champions and gain results at Stamford Bridge.
Although Morurinho's men were impressive against Porto midweek, Chelsea travel to league leaders Leicester City with their domestic season on the line. A loss at Leicester would end any chances of Chelsea, at the bare minimum, gaining a Champions League spot domestically, as the shift in performance levels between the two is quite interesting.
In terms of this season’s expectations, the two clubs have played role reversal. The Blues are a few points above the relegation zone, whereas Claudio Ranieri’s men sit at the top of the Premier League.
"When I was in Inter in my first season he was with Juventus, and Juve was the enemy," said Mourinho.
"The next season he went to Roma and I fought with Roma until the last match of the season to be champion. So he was in the two rivals; you cannot be best friends.
Though the Portuguese manager has always been superior to Ranieri in terms of silverware, the most fitting thing about the Foxes’ success is that they epitomize the powerful counter-attacking forces at Mourinho’s disposal in the past — organized sides that remains compact, focus on defensive solidity, and quickly break in numbers in transition.
Last year, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard dominated the league with the Spaniard’s power and tireless work rate, whereas Hazard’s eye for goal and mesmerizing trickery bamboozled the oppositions defence. The same can’t be said this year, as Costa has been struggled severely in front of goal, while Hazard has gone nearly seven months without scoring for the Blues — a truly remarkable drought for a player of his calibre.
On the other end, Ranieri can turn to Jamie Vardy, the standout player of the current season, who leads the league with 14 goals. Vardy chases countless balls into the channel, and his acceleration enables the England international to run behind the defence to score goals.
Similar to Vardy, Mahrez is capable of creating his own goal scoring chances, but the tricky Leicester winger’s ability to evade challenges with his dribbling is unprecedented. In ways, Mahrez’s threat running at defenders is equivalent to Hazard’s dominance last year, as the contrast between the duos vividly summarizes both clubs’ current situation.
But Chelsea’s main issue lies in midfield where last year’s star performers — for the first half of the season — Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic have struggled as duo. The ease in Harry Arter, Dan Gosling and Andrew Surman’s ability to play around the duo provided further proof last week, with the Blues consistently lacked creativity and power in midfield.
Ramires’ partnership with Nemanja Matic against Porto midweek offered an ideal alternative as the Brazilian provides dynamism and improved work rate in central areas, but in return Chelsea are deprived service into the attacking quartet. Yet, the personnel in Mourinho’s XI suggests the Blues would be better suited to attack on the counter.
Cesc Fabregas’ poor tactical awareness and willingness to swiftly complete defensive duties have left Matic vulnerable in midfield and created a focal point for opposing teams to attack. Last year, Fabregas’ 18 assists combined with Matic’s 3.6 tackles per game — only bettered by Lucas Leiva, Morgan Schneiderlin and Pablo Zabaleta — was pivotal to a Chelsea side that previously lacked guile and a commanding defensive presence.
Put simply, the decline over the past 12 months has been staggering.
On the other hand, N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater’s partnership in midfield presents the former’s 3.8 tackles per match and a league high 4.3 interceptions, illustrating his tireless work rate. Drinkwater simultaneously sits in midfield and limits productivity between the lines, ensuring that Leicester remains compact in midfield.
"I think he [Kante] can improve, but he is very important because he recovers a lot of balls,” said Ranieri.
"Can he be one of the best midfielders in Europe? He can achieve this target."
Essentially, that’s another significant contrast between the two sides. Drinkwater and Kante adequately protect an average back-line, whereas the poor displays from Matic and Fabregas have exposed the aging Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry. Once renowned for their ability to control games through their organization and discipline, the Blues head into the King Power Stadium to face their former manager whom instilled the power and defensive solidity Chelsea once possessed.
While a title charge is unlikely, a second consecutive victory at the league leaders would possibly suggest Mourinho has found his best XI — presumably based on brawn opposed to creativity. But even with the current inconsistent state of the Premier League, a loss would serve as both a mathematical and psychological blow for Mourinho.
At a time where Chelsea was tipped to welcome an era of dominance, Ranieri has crafted a side that displays the togetherness, work rate, power, and devastating efficiency that the Blues displayed last year — the catalyst to several Mourinho title triumphs.
Perhaps Mourinho’s praise for the Italian is a sign that the Portuguese manager is aware of the incredible role reversal between the two.
More about Chelsea, Leicester city, Epl, Premier League, Vardy
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