There is no need to dance around the point. No need to hide from the only logical conclusion from Leicester City’s visit to Chelsea on Saturday: The Foxes were the better team. The Blues were underwhelming. And although it was Leicester that ultimately held on for a 0-0 draw, it was also Leicester that most deserved the draw.
In fact, Leicester arguably deserved more than it got.
Chelsea has now gone three consecutive games without a goal, but its inability to score wasn’t the most surprising outcome of Saturday’s match. The bigger surprise was that it didn’t concede. Leicester was excellent. Riyad Mahrez dazzled, dancing through Chelsea’s midfield throughout the first half.
Only Thibaut Courtois’ absurd length kept the Foxes off the board. The Belgian keeper dove to his right to keep out Wilfred Ndidi’s header, the best chance of the first 45 minutes. But not the only one. After halftime, Mahrez saw a deflected shot trickle just wide of the post.
Leicester pressed Chelsea, and was unwilling to accept that, just because it was away from home against one of the Big Six, it had to be second-best. And because it didn’t accept that, it wasn’t second-best.
Chelsea was unable to seize control of the game in midfield. N’Golo Kante even seemed overwhelmed at times, and was booked for one too many fouls. Tiemoue Bakayoko struggled to connect with Kane and Cesc Fabregas. Antonio Conte pulled both Fabregas and Eden Hazard off before the hour mark to try to inject some life into his team, but neither Willian nor Pedro could.
Leicester left back Ben Chilwell was sent off in the second half for a questionable second yellow card, and over the final 20 minutes, the game naturally turned. The red card muted Leicester’s threat going forward. And in the end, the visitors will take their point. But if anything, it wasn’t Chelsea’s late pressure that deserved three points; it was Leicester’s all-around performance while it had 11 men.
The result leaves Chelsea stuck in third place, and just three points above fifth. That’s because Tottenham took care of business at home against Everton.
Son sparkles for Spurs
Heung-Min Son is a fascinating player. He’s not necessarily inconsistent. But his role fluctuates so often – sometimes between games, sometimes even within games – that consistency is difficult to come by.
Son, though, can be a game-breaker when he’s in rhythm. He was in rhythm Saturday. And he broke an overmatched Everton.
Harry Kane will get the headlines, because the English striker, in just 135 games, at age 24, broke Teddy Sherringham’s Tottenham Premier League goalscoring record with No. 97 and 98. Sherringham needed 236 games.
But it was Son who supplied Kane for No. 97, and the Korean forward who set Tottenham on its way toward three points. He made a clever run to draw Everton defenders away from Serge Aurier, then got on the end of Aurier’s drilled cross:
Son also set up Dele Alli in the second half for what could have been a third Tottenham goal. He then hit the post himself.
Shortly thereafter, Kane did make it three with his record-setter.
Christian Eriksen got the fourth to cap off a dominant Tottenham performance.
But neither Spurs’ win or Chelsea’s draw was the biggest result of Saturday. Not even close. The most consequential games came down at the bottom of the table.
Controversy at Watford
Southampton appeared to have steadied itself with what would have been a crucial win at Watford. James Ward-Prowse had the Saints up 2-0 at halftime. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side was on course for its first victory since November.
But Watford, in a rut of its own, fought back. Andre Gray chopped the lead in half with a scrappy 58th-minute goal.
The Hornets pressed for an equalizer, and eventually found it in the 90th minute. However, the drama and importance were overshadowed by controversy:
Abdoulaye Doucoure’s equalizer was quite clearly helped over the line by his hand. The referee didn’t spot the infraction. Southampton dropped two points, and stayed just one above the bottom three. But remember, everybody, VAR is bad for soccer. (*rolls eyes*)
West Ham’s breakout
Huddersfield-West Ham was, on paper, a battle between overachievers and underachievers. It was the classic lower-half clash between a talented team that typically plays without heart, grit and cohesion, and a mediocre one full of those three attributes.
But sometimes talent wins out. And it did on Saturday.
In a weird first-half sequence, Huddersfield strayed from its identity paid the price. It tried to play through West Ham’s press and out from the back on a goal kick. Mark Noble swarmed to the scene, won the ball on the edge of Huddersfield’s penalty area, and put the Hammers in front:
Huddersfield drew level before halftime through a first Premier League goal from Joe Lolley. And it was a fine way to get off the mark for the sparsely-used winger:
But when it comes to pure ability, players like Lolley, Laurent Depoitre and Rajiv van La Parra simply can’t measure up to ones like Manuel Lanzini and Marko Arnautovic.
Arnautovic restored West Ham’s lead 11 seconds after halftime:
Ten minutes later, Arnautovic set up Lanzini for West Ham’s third:
The two again combined for the fourth shortly after the hour mark.
Lanzini and Arnautovic started up top together, without Andy Carroll or Javier Hernandez to crowd their space. Neither Carroll nor Hernandez has been effective this season, and both have been the subject of recent transfer rumors. The success of Lanzini and Arnautovic as a duo will give David Moyes something to think about.
More importantly, it bumped West Ham up into 11th place. It got the Hammers their seventh point in three games. Moyes appears to have righted the ship.
Both West Ham and Huddersfield remain in the relegation picture for now, though, because the bottom half of the table remains incredibly tight. Only six points separate 10th and 18th, and that gap could close to five on Monday.
And even the teams below 18th, Swansea and West Brom, are by no means buried. The Baggies claimed just their third win of the season on Saturday, beating Brighton 2-0 on two headers. It was their first win since August.
The Swans continued their ascent under Carlos Carvalhal. They’re back into 20th place, but just four points from safety after a respectable 1-1 draw at Newcastle.
And speaking of continued ascents, Crystal Palace jumped into 12th with a second-straight Premier League win.
The Eagles have only lost once in the Premier league since Nov. 5. Their ignominious start means they still aren’t safe. But they’re heading in that direction.
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