Are the Blues going the way of the Foxes?
Chelsea on Saturday came from behind to beat a very hard-fighting Tottenham team 2-1 at Stamford Bridge to surpass their toughest test yet since they began to look like title contenders. The Blues reclaimed their place at the top of the table after Liverpool and Manchester City had leapfrogged them earlier in the day and irrespective of what happens at Manchester next weekend when City host Chelsea, few would follow Sir Alex Ferguson in doubting the Blues' title credentials presently.
Chelsea won the title two seasons back before surrendering it to current champions Leicester City. The Blues are now looking to seize the title back from the Foxes, and while they may not need to outfox the Foxes there are some really interesting similarities to spot between the present Chelsea side and the Leicester side that defied all permutations to win the league last season.
Both Chelsea and Leicester have blue as their primary kit colour.
Leicester were during their title season managed by Italian Claudio Ranieri, who had himself previously managed Chelsea. Chelsea are presently managed by Ranieri's compatriot Antonio Conte. The Italians are known for their tactical astuteness, something that clearly shone through the Leicester side of last season and Chelsea's current side.
No European Football
Leicester City did not have to worry about Champions League or Europa League football last season. Neither do Chelsea this season, after finishing as poorly as it could get in the Season before.
Same Team Every Week
A gain of their lack of European football was that their players had more time to rest. Thus, Leicester named the same Team nearly every league game, a factor that really contributed to their consistent form. 4-4-2: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez, Kante, Drinkwater, Albrighton; Vardy Okazaki.
Chelsea are playing under the same circumstances. Since Conte found his preferred formation and team it's been the same week-in week-out. 3-4-3: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Hazard, Costa.
Coming From a Season of Turmoil
While Chelsea were cruising to the Premier League title in 2015 Leicester were fighting to remain in the league. A very late push saw them through the line. Manager Nigel Pearson was fired and replaced with Ranieri despite having helped them win promotion. In the reverse, while Leicester were on their way to the title, Chelsea were in inexplicable turmoil, trying to salvage some pride. Their successful manager, Jose Mourinho, was also fired and eventually replaced. Now they are in a title race.
Leicester had Jamie Vardy doing all sorts of scoring magic. The striker even managed to score in 11 consecutive games at a time, breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy's long-held record.Chelsea have got their own centre-forward Diego Costa firing too. He sits top of the charts with 10 goals in 13 games. When he's not scoring, he's also creating. He created the winner against Tottenham for Victor Moses with a very determined run - his fourth assist so far.
They say strikers win you matches, but defenders win you trophies. Chelsea's solid defending, as much as their attacking swagger, has been a cornerstone of their title charge so far with just one conceded in the last 7 games.Leicester were also a rock at the back last season. The Foxes defence conceded only 36 goals all season and most of these were in the first half. Once Leicester began to believe in their title chances they became very difficult to break down.
Both Suffered Heavy Early Defeats to Arsenal
Leicester were in fact beaten home and away by a side actually tipped to win the league, Arsenal FC. The Gunners rendered the Foxes powerless with a 5-2 hiding at the King Power Stadium on September 26th while the second leg ended 2-1 at the Emirates. It was after that mending against Arsenal that Leicester learned to close shop.
Chelsea have also early on suffered a bashing at the hands of the Gunners - a 3-0 loss at the Emirates also in the month of September (24th). The scoreline for both matches was a difference of 3 in favour of the Gunners. Since that result, the fortunes of the side have changed though with Chelsea winning the next seven, scoring 19 and conceding just 1 on their way to the top.
Both Were Knocked Out of the League Cup in October
Leicester suffered a 4th round League Cup penalty shootout defeat away to Hull City on October 27, 2015, another factor that allowed them to focus on the league. Likewise, Chelsea were knocked out of the same completion in the same 4th round this season after a 2-1 away defeat to West Ham on October 26, 2016.
Both Were Written off as Contenders
Sir Alex Ferguson in October wrote Chelsea off as a title contender. So did many after consecutive humiliating defeats at the hands of Liverpool and Arsenal. Not even their comeback win against Spurs seems to have convinced the likes of former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp. No hard feelings though, nobody ever imagined Leicester doing anything but fight relegation last season. Even as they kept climbing, most still expected them to get knocked down eventually.
One Fleet-footed African Winger
Riyadh Mahrez was a sheer revelation for Leicester last season. The previously unknown Algerian knocked in 15 goals and 10 assists as Leicester won the title. This season, another relatively unheralded African player is turning to be as important as any other player in the team as Chelsea push for the title. Victor Moses is excelling in his new role as Chelsea's ride-sided wing-back and has won the man of the match award in two straight games against Middlesbrough and Tottenham. Some say he has since deserved that honour. With form like he has been showing recently, don't write Moses off of anything.
The engine that keeps the entire system running. Europe's best ball winner. Kante was key to Leicester's title win last season. Ranieri, when talking about the little Frenchman's importance to his side described him as nothing less than two players in one, playing on both sides of Danny Drinkwater in the Foxes midfield. Chelsea are now enjoying the benefits of that same service after snatching him for "cheap" from the Foxes. He has brought the same solidity to an unsure side. For Hazard, Kante is the rat that smells all danger from a distance.
Interestingly, Leicester did beat Man City 1-3 at the Etihad in February, which is something Chelsea would be looking to emulate next weekend. And then there's the matter of beating Spurs - an achievement of both sides. Perhaps, the Chelsea players won't mind losing twice to Arsenal this season if it means winning the title like Leicester.