It might not have been how Chelsea manager Antonio Conte scripted it, but he got a few insights into the mental makeup of his team in Tuesday’s 4-2 win against Leicester City. For nearly an entire half of soccer, Chelsea looked like they had reverted back to the listless, lethargic underperforming team of last season. Coming off a pair similarly underwhelming matches against Swansea and Liverpool, a date against the team that usurped their Premier League crown seemed a timely opportunity to show that the ship wasn’t sinking.
The Blues started Tuesday’s cup tie against Leicester City out of sorts. A host of new faces came into the starting XI, as most managers opt to rotate players in for midweek cup matches, but the symptoms of slothful play remained. Leicester expertly capitalized, with the Foxes up by a pair of goals by the 34th minute. Chelsea’s men were failing the test in miserable fashion.
Chelsea’s defense looked rudderless, much as it did in Chelsea’s previous two ties without longtime captain John Terry to keep the back line organized. It’s fitting that a maligned member of that defense, Gary Cahill, plucked an important goal to get the Blues back into the match and change the tide on the stroke of half time. Chelsea played the second half with more vigor, as evidenced by the audacious goal that fullback Cesar Azpilicueta unleashed to draw Chelsea level:
Known more for his relentless work and defensive acumen, Azpilicueta isn’t really much of a threat to score from anywhere. But he struck that volley as sweetly as any striker could for his fourth goal ever in a Blue shirt, and with that, it was game on. What followed later was a series of net-rattling goals in extra time that appeared to release quite a bit of pent-up frustration. Cesc Fabregas, who has found himself on the periphery under Conte, broke the deadlock against 10-man Leicester with this beautifully worked team goal:
Then, Chelsea, who Conte has implored to figure out how to “kill” matches they should win, did just that. Fabregas laced another venomous half volley to put the match to bed, and Chelsea progressed to the next round of the League Cup. The match overall answered a few questions about Chelsea, specifically their resilience and willingness to bounce back from some unsatisfactory results, but also brought about a new host of questions.
Is Conte’s defense, which showed up to clean up a mess of their own doing, good enough to mount a legitimate title challenge? Has Fabregas, who has played just 32 Premier League minutes this season, earned himself a look in in more important matches? Conte and Chelsea can hang their hats on a hard-fought victory after a string of letdowns, but where do they go from here?
Even after an impressive victory, the work is far from done.