Chelsea must feel like they’ve leaped out of the frying pan and into the fire as they prepare to face Leicester City on Monday night.
The Blues’ last outing in the Premier League saw them lose 1-0 to relegation-threatened Bournemouth, but they now face an even tougher challenge in visiting the King Power Stadium – the unexpected home of the current table-toppers.
Indeed, the Foxes have been nothing short of phenomenal this season, marauding their way to the Premier League’s summit with a whopping 32 points from 15 games.
So with both sides enduring such polarised results recently – Leicester are top of the form guide whilst the west Londoners are all the way down in 18th place – this match requires Jose Mourinho’s special attention.
Being the ever-helpful bunch we are at Football Fancast, we’ve listed four key questions the Chelsea gaffer must answer before Monday night (kick-off at 8pm) to ensure victory against the in-form Foxes.
The most obvious and probably most important question Jose Mourinho must answer before Monday’s game – how can Chelsea stop Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez?
The duo have been amongst the top performers in the Premier League this season, racking up a lethal 24 goals and eight assists between them, and no club has found a formula to nullify their relentless counter-attacking threat thus far.
Yet something tells me Jose Mourinho will take the Foxes talismans more seriously than most. No team has really shown them the respect they deserve this season, but the Portuguese is unlikely to make the same mistake.
Chelsea’s rearguard performance against Liverpool at the end of 2013/14 campaign provides the perfect case in point and possibly the right template to follow – especially away from home.
Seemingly even beyond the control of Jose Mourinho, it has not been a good season for bib-throwing striker Diego Costa.
The Portuguese dropped the 27-year-old to the bench against Bournemouth last weekend following his recent petulance, including the half-time spat against Maccabi Tel Aviv, but he struggled to impact after coming on and failed to find the net – moving his campaign total to just four goals in 18 appearances across all competitions.
Eden Hazard struggled to have the desired effect as an unorthodox centre-forward against Eddie Howe’s side, which suggests Mourinho might reinstate Costa after giving him a wrap across the knuckles.
But if the Chelsea gaffer plans to line up defensively, in an attempt to stop Vardy and Mahrez, speedy Frenchman Loic Remy might be the better option.
The 28-year-old has made just six Premier League appearances this season, only one being a start, and is yet to find the net. But Remy’s goalscoring credentials are well established in the Premier League and his involvement from the off could catch Leicester City off-guard. Robert Huth and Wes Morgan are by no means the quickest.
John Terry missed the Bournemouth defeat last weekend with an ankle injury, leading club favourite Ray Wilkins to claim that Chelsea looked ‘rudderless‘ without their veteran captain.
The 34-year-old’s experience could prove vital on Monday night in such a potentially important game – another loss could throw Chelsea into complete meltdown – yet you wonder whether this is really the right fixture for Terry return to the fold.
Of course, it depends how Chelsea set up – as previously speculated, they could start the game with an incredibly deep defence.
But the lack of pace throughout the Blues’ back six, including midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic, has cost them dearly already this season with Terry amongst the biggest victims, whilst Leicester City are one of the Premier League’s quickest and most energetic sides going forward.
Purely for speed and athleticism, Kurt Zouma and Gary Cahill may be the better choice. Then again, poor concentration is what proved to be Chelsea’s undoing last weekend and Terry’s sheer presence could make a big difference in that regard.
Despite being unexpectedly dropped for Chelsea’s defeat to Bournemouth last weekend, Cesar Azpilicueta seems almost certain to return to the starting line-up for the visit to Leicester City.
He’s been the Blues’ best defender and one of their most consistent performers since Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge in summer 2013, even amid their current slump in form.
The real question, however, is what side to deploy the versatile full-back on. Right-back Branislav Ivanovic’s performances since returning from injury have been an improvement upon his woeful form at the start of the season but the Serbian international still looks shaky, whilst Abdul Rahman Baba – although sensationally quick – is yet to fully convince at No.3.
In truth, Azpilicueta would beef up either side of the defence. But in my opinion, the left makes the most sense. Although Abdul Rahman Baba’s pace could prove useful, Chelsea need their best defender on Riyad Mahrez, who usually lines up on the right wing.