Belfast Telegraph

Woeful Chelsea are outfoxed as Leicester return to top

Leicester 2 - Chelsea 1

By Mark Ogden

Perhaps the time has come to think the unthinkable. Leicester City might just sustain their title challenge and Jose Mourinho could be out of a job by Christmas.

There comes a point when what appear to be freak circumstances become the norm and Leicester's credentials as potential Premier League champions can no longer be dismissed after Claudio Ranieri's players moved top by dismantling Chelsea.

No team has ever had this many points (35) at this stage of the season and failed to at least finish in the top four at the end of the campaign - so the outlook is good for the Foxes.

Jamie Vardy's 15th goal in 16 league games, followed by a Riyad Mahrez wonder goal, left Chelsea - champions in May - hovering just one point above the relegation zone.

Leicester were immense, their football pulsating, and they completely outplayed Mourinho's team to the extent that the visitors appeared to have downed tools for the Special One. When that happens, a manager is always on borrowed time and even Mourinho cannot be safe now. The clock is ticking.

Despite responding to the 1-0 home defeat against Bournemouth with a decisive Champions League victory against Porto, Chelsea arrived at the King Power Stadium with their Premier League form continuing to be the issue most likely to curtail Mourinho's time in charge.

The champions have been a fractured outfit all season, losing 10 games in all competitions prior to this fixture, and their demeanour was nervous from the outset.

Eden Hazard's disappearance down the tunnel after half an hour, with an apparent injury caused by an innocuous challenge by Vardy, was one of those moments when desire could be questioned.

Having been asked to return to the field by Mourinho following treatment, the Belgian took one look at the ball and made it clear he could not continue. Tests may yet reveal a genuine problem, but the challenge certainly did not suggest that Hazard had suffered a serious injury.

Up to that point, last season's double Footballer of the Year had been on the periphery, just like most of his team-mates.

The gulf in confidence and belief between the two teams was clear. Leicester had lost just one league game in 19 outings since a 3-1 defeat here by Chelsea last April and they began the evening 17 points clear of the champions.

At this stage last season, Chelsea were top with 39 points while Leicester were anchored to the foot of the Premier League with just 10, seemingly destined for relegation in their first campaign back in the top flight.

But the miraculous escape under Nigel Pearson has now been proven to be no fluke.

Vardy's pace and Mahrez's trickery causing problems for the champions. The Foxes deservedly took the lead when Vardy extended his incredible scoring run on 34 minutes.

It was Mahrez's cross from the right which opened Chelsea up, with John Terry and Kurt Zouma inexplicably allowing Vardy to run between them to flick the ball past Thibaut Courtois.

Leicester's second goal in the 48th minute was a thing of sheer beauty, with Mahrez making a fool of César Azpilicueta with a tremendous piece of skill before curling a sumptuous left-foot strike beyond Courtois.

It came just after a heated clash between Vardy and Diego Costa after the former was booked for bringing down the Spain international.

Vardy, Mahrez and Ranieri have all dazzled this season, so it was apt that they plunged Chelsea deeper into darkness. Other than a brief flourish on the hour, Chelsea offered nothing until Loïc Remy headed in on 77 minutes.

It was the twitching of a corpse, but the nails are ready to be hammered into the coffin and it would be ironic if the final blow proves to be delivered by Ranieri, who made way for Mourinho in 2004.

Belfast Telegraph


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