After spending the international break reading up on how to improve his understanding of English football’s vocabulary, Antonio Conte swapped a book and the Italian sunshine for three points and grey skies in the Midlands, as Chelsea continued their resurgence with a third successive Premier League victory.
These are still early days, but it feels as though normal service has been resumed with the Premier League champions, as the memories of that chaotic defeat at home against Burnley on the opening weekend of the season begin to fade. Chelsea are up to third in the table, winning matches without playing at their best and, on the evidence of what we have seen so far, will not be losing any sleep about Diego Costa’s absence when Álvaro Morata is in this sort of form.
The Spaniard scored for the third time since his club-record transfer from Real Madrid, expertly guiding a header beyond Kasper Schmeichel to set Chelsea on their way, and N’Golo Kanté marked his return to his former club with a rare goal as Leicester slipped to a third defeat in four matches.
Chelsea did not have everything their own way, however, and there were a few anxious moments for Conte and his players to endure after Jamie Vardy converted a penalty shortly after the hour mark to bring Leicester back into the game. A spell of late Leicester pressure ended with Vardy stretching every sinew but not quite managing to get a touch to a cross from the substitute Andy King that flashed across goal.
Chelsea should have been out of sight by that point. Davide Zappacosta could easily have marked his debut with a goal, but dragged a low shot inches wide of the far upright and Willian, another second-half substitute, ought to have scored in the closing stages when he had only Schmeichel to beat.
In the end, that profligacy never mattered as Chelsea held on for a win that Conte seized on as evidence that the champions are heading in the right direction. “It’s very important to follow our way and this way is to work,” the Chelsea manager said. “Despite our bad start against Burnley, and then a bit of difficulty, to do three wins in a row is important.
“The mentality was very strong, very positive, until the penalty because we were in total control. After the penalty, Leicester tried to put a bit of pressure but, despite this, we created many chances to improve our scoreline. We must be satisfied with that.
“We are trying to involve new players with the old players of last season and this is a process. We need time.”
Morata seems to be adapting quicker than anyone and is proving lethal in the air. His three Chelsea goals have been scored with his head and there was something particularly impressive about the way he steered César Azpilicueta’s superb centre into the bottom corner after drifting away from his marker, Wes Morgan. “A good day for the team and a good day for Álvaro,” said Conte.
The Chelsea manager also saw positive signs in the performance of Tiemoué Bakayoko, who lined up alongside Kanté in a midfield that overpowered Leicester in the first half. Leicester, though, still had their chances, in particular just before Morata’s goal, when Chelsea were hit on the counterattack as Riyad Mahrez released Islam Slimani. The Algerian was one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois, but the Chelsea goalkeeper came out on top, blocking the striker’s shot with his right hand. “The big moments aren’t going our way,” said Craig Shakespeare, alluding to that opportunity.
Leicester had only themselves to blame for Chelsea’s second, which arrived five minutes into the second half and just after Shakespeare had made a couple of substitutions to try to change the game. Kanté, who is not exactly renowned for his goalscoring ability, had so much time and space to look up and strike a 30-yard shot, which took a slight deflection and almost seemed to find the far corner of the net in slow motion.
To their credit, Leicester never surrendered and the home team got their reward when Vardy dispatched a penalty after he had been tripped by Courtois. But they had left themselves too much to do.
“We showed a lot of character and resilience,” said Shakespeare. “But we couldn’t quite find that breakthrough once we got the penalty.”
Chelsea condemn Morata ‘yids’ chant
Chelsea have condemned the antisemitic language used by a section of their supporters at the King Power Stadium in a terrace chant about Álvaro Morata, with the Spaniard and the club demanding the fans stop with immediate effect.
The song, linked to their bitter rivalry with Tottenham Hotspur, contains a reference to “Yids”and was heard during Chelsea’s 2-1 victory at Leicester, when Morata scored his third goal for the club. Chelsea said the language was “not acceptable”.
Steve Atkins, Chelsea’s head of communications, said: “The club and the players appreciate the fans’ passionate support away from home, of course. But the language in that song is not acceptable at all.
“We have spoken to Álvaro after the game. He does not want to be connected with that song in any way and both the player and the club request that the supporters stop singing that song with immediate effect.”
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