Leicester City host Chelsea this weekend in the most engaging clash the quarter-finals of the FA Cup has to offer.
Indeed, from the four encounters, the Foxes and the Blues are in the closest proximity in the Premier League table – separated by just four places – and Claude Puel’s side have already recorded an impressive result against Antonio Conte’s boys this season, drawing at Stamford Bridge in a game they probably should have won despite going down to ten men.
So, will the east Midlands outfit be able to go one better on Sunday and claim a win to progress to the semi-finals, or will Chelsea shake off recent cobwebs and put on a stellar performance knowing their final chance of silverware this season boils down to a visit to the King Power Stadium.
Unfortunately we don’t have a crystal ball, but here’s everything you need to know ahead of the 4pm kickoff…
There really isn’t much to choose between Leicester and Chelsea’s form from their last six games across all competitions, separated by just one strike in terms of goals scored and both struggling somewhat defensively to claim just a single clean sheet during that time. However, Chelsea have lost twice more than the Foxes and that’s been a worrying theme of the Blues’ start to the year – actually suffering more defeats than enjoying victories so far in 2018.
However, there are some important caveats to consider here, chiefly the quality of opposition the west Londoners have faced. Those six games include two legs with Barcelona, and defeats at Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium. Leicester, meanwhile, aside from being thumped 5-1 by Manchester City, have only faced teams looking to stave off relegation from the top flight and Championship side Sheffield United in the last round.
In terms of player form, Jamie Vardy’s enjoying a solid run ahead of the World Cup in Russia and scored a beautiful over-the-shoulder volley against West Brom last weekend, taking his return to four in Leicester’s last six games. Willian, on the other hand, has been Chelsea’s most consistent threat with five goals.
At this point in the season, Leicester’s game-plan under Puel is pretty clear – four at the back, five in midfield and Jamie Vardy tasked with leading the line by constantly threatening the space behind opposition defences. Accordingly, the England international is the first name on the team sheet and overall, we aren’t expecting significant changes from the Foxes side that comfortably beat West Brom 4-1 at the Hawthorns last weekend.
However, considering the quality of the opposition and the importance of the quarter-final, we’re anticipating Puel to opt for experience over the promise of youth, which means two key changes down the left-hand side. Marc Albrighton comes in for 21-year-old Demarai Gray, while Christian Fuchs replaces the equally young Ben Chilwell. It may take away some of the home side’s dynamism going forward, but should leave them much more solid in defence.
Chelsea don’t have any fresh injury concerns for Sunday’s game, with David Luiz and Ross Barkley remaining the two long-term absentees. But we’re still expecting a few changes after such a physically and mentally draining experience at the Nou Camp in midweek, somehow losing 3-0 despite arguably dominating the match, and perhaps the most significant in the context of the opposition is a start for Danny Drinkwater in midfield – the England international returning to the club where he famously won the Premier League title.
Meanwhile, Gary Cahill – who Transfermarkt value at £13.5milion – could well return to the defence to provide some vital experience after simple errors at the back cost Chelsea dearly against Barca, despite many Blues supporters spending much of the season wanting him out of the first team. Likewise, Davide Zappacosta could get the chance to deputise for Victor Moses, whose game-time has been managed carefully this season.
The only remaining point of contention is between the sticks. Willy Caballero has been Chelsea’s FA Cup goalkeeper so far this season and although he’s not entirely convinced at times, Thibaut Courtois’ erroneous display against Lionel Messi suggests Conte will be inclined to take advantage of the chance to remove the 54-cap Belgian from the limelight.