Chelsea are back in club action against Leicester City and fans have been treated to some exceptional international break performances from some of Thomas Tuchel’s players, ex-Blues or loanees. With Reece James’ dominating display from rightback against Albania to Conor Gallagher’s debut for the Three Lions, Christian Pulisic has returned to the pitch again and Levi Colwill put out a highlights package and defender would be proud of. Oh, Tammy Abraham also got on the scoresheet for England which everyone likes to see.
Attentions have turned to the Premier League now though and it’s a tough midday trip to the King Power stadium for the Londoners. With Leicester City not quite hitting the same standards they have set for the majority of the past two seasons under Brendan Rodgers, the Foxes look like they have suffered a post-Champions League setback depression from the final day of last season.
Their escapades in Europe have been a bit more impressive, they’ve been through an exciting 2-2 draw with Napoli and an end-to-end Patson Daka inspired 4-3 away win in Russia over Spartak Moscow. Although they sit third in the group, Rodgers’ side could well still progress.
Their place in the bottom half of the league is surprising for a team that have spent most of the last two campaigns firmly in the top four, but given the strength of the top three, at least, their lowly twelfth place standing doesn’t mean too much yet. With Jamie Vardy having an inconsistent season, no goals in his last three following a period of five in four, the Foxes haven’t been able to put together a strong run, at least not since their 2-0 loss to Arsenal.
With all of that being said, Chelsea have a majorly mixed recent history when travelling to Leicester. Although it’s just two losses in seven in all competitions, there’s only been two wins in the mix, both home and away.
The blue rivalry between the teams has ignited since the 2015/16 title win for this weekend’s hosts. Leicester have effectively put the sword into the back of Jose Mourinho and Frank Lampard whilst simultaneously damaging Tuchel in the FA Cup final four months ago.
Chelsea will be favourites going into the game, and rightly so. The limping juggernaut continue to top the table and haven’t hit full stride yet. As a certain sparkling American comes back into the fold this weekend and Callum Hudson-Odoi allowed himself some time at Cobham to impress, here’s what to look out for later this afternoon.
Opportunity for Kai Havertz to impress against Leicester City
It wouldn’t be fair to say this is crunch time for Kai Havertz, he has been a notoriously slow starter to seasons. His season also hasn’t been terrible, it just hasn’t quite kicked on like many would have hoped. With three goals and three assists in 11 games for club and country (two goals and no assists in the league), he isn’t shining like the silky German might have.
Strangely, considering his smooth moving feet, he hasn’t scored in the league with his boots yet either. This is a strange situation to be in for someone with such composure and effortless guile. However, his results as the tip of a three-pronged, injury hit front three have been rewarding for Chelsea. They won five out of the six games started since the last international break and managed to return three goals and an assist.
However, with Romelu Lukaku nearing fitness, and Timo Werner looking the same, competition for places at the head of Tuchel’s title charging team is about to intensify. With Pulisic back and expected to get a run out in some form, and Hudson-Odoi’s commitment being trusted, a big performance from Havertz against Leicester City could push him ahead of his fellow teammates.
Callum Hudson-Odoi to keep place ahead of injury returns
In the same period as Havertz’s four contributions, the English winger put up two assists and one goal. Fans were mostly interested in seeing Hudson-Odoi get a first true run of games for what seems like forever. It’s so easy to forget that the winger or makeshift wingback only turned 21 earlier this month, such has been his pottering appearances around the club since he was 17.
This is a key game for him though. As the aforementioned treatment table clears and players are readily available for Tuchel, Hudson-Odoi now needs to take another step and cement himself a place whilst more senior players are around him.
He’s proved that he is ready to be a first team Premier League player, he’s also stood up to give a very good pitch that he should be just that at Chelsea. His last chance with a bit of freedom might be against Leicester though. With Manchester United to come, Juventus not far beyond that and the intense nature of battling for minutes at Stamford Bridge, taking advantage of being the most natural left winger in the squad has happen this weekend for Hudson-Odoi. Otherwise, rightly or wrongly, he might be chucked and shuffled back into the pack.
Christian Pulisic to return after USA goal
Off the bench though this may be, it’s going to be a familiarly exciting feeling when Pulisic plays for Chelsea again. Most have probably forgotten what he looks like in honesty, they’ve either morphed him into prime Eden Hazard or decided that he’s as much use as the current injury hit form of the Belgian. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground for Pulisic, he can’t simply play a game and come off with a 6/10.
The phrase is always that you’re better when you’re not playing, that might have bee true for most of this season when Chelsea haven’t set the world alight but have done enough to win games. Pulisic does, on paper, look like a perfect fit for this team. Even if he is in competition for Hudson-Odoi’s minutes, Tuchel has shown cunning willingness to switch the Englishman to the right for his crossing.
For all of Pulisic’s obvious injury issues, he has the chance to show on the pitch that he can bring a different dimension to Chelsea’s attack. He has the speed, direct dribbling, agility, movement and flexibility to fit in and mould himself to any of the forward positions. When Lukaku returns, those two playing off of each other could be dangerous.
But for now, in the short term it’s about building up the match fitness and building form once more. If the American can start that process this weekend with a cameo against Leicester City and time his form with the inclusion of Lukaku in the not-so-distant future then Chelsea could be in for a winner.
Written and edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)
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