Unsurprisingly, Leicester and Chelsea are the two teams with the greatest difference in their points at this stage of the season compared to last.
Over the exact same fixtures, Chelsea are massively in the black, while Leicester have fallen far short. That would not have been a wild prediction at the start of the season, even if most expected Chelsea to perform a little worse than this and Leicester a little better.
Facing off at the King Power this weekend, the last two Premier League champions are re-enacting Jose Mourinho’s final match at the helm of Chelsea’s sinking 2015/16 ship. Returning to the scene of their darkest hour in their title defence, Chelsea are unrecognisable. As are Leicester. While Riyad Mahrez is not present to torment the Blues’ defence again, Chelsea’s stars are playing like champions this year, while Leicester’s heroes of last season are not.
Only five of the starters from the defeat that day will likely start this weekend: Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta, Thibaut Courtois and Nemanja Matic. Matic, Hazard and Costa particularly will be different animals to contend with for Leicester from the players they faced 13 months ago. Leicester’s team, meanwhile, will remain largely similar, aside from the loss of N’golo Kante – who will line-up alongside Matic in Chelsea’s midfield – and Mahrez’s unavailability.
Although Leicester are in the middle of a fight against relegation, Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes have shown glimpses of the performances that made them the most unlikely of Premier League champions. The annihilation of Manchester City and the remarkable 10-men two-goal comeback away at Stoke City are the most notable of late and they will surely be motivated that extra notch with the visit of the team most likely to take their Premier League crown away from them. They may not be competing for the title itself this season, but Leicester can still have a huge say in who replaces them as champions.
Jamie Vardy will lead Leicester’s line, Shinji Okazaki will tirelessly press Chelsea’s midfielders from a shadow striker position and Danny Drinkwater will look to launch troubling balls into the channels behind the Chelsea defence. Leicester are functioning on a similar blueprint to last season and they pose a significant threat to Chelsea. Both of the Blues’ wing-backs, Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses, have been criticised of late and they will be asked questions defensively by Leicester’s wingers, who will hug the touchlines. Ahmed Musa may start on the left flank for the Foxes, which would set up an intriguing matchup with Moses.
Rarely will a match between the previous two Premier League champions have been so insignificant. Given the Saturday evening slot, this is not a match between two contending teams, or even two teams jostling for top six position, but their respective recent successes still make this an encounter with its own, unique relevance in the Premier League this season.
Despite an FA Cup thrashing of Peterborough, Chelsea are in need of victory. After a weak performance saw defeat against Tottenham in their last Premier League fixture, their winning streak came to an end. It was a stark return to normality for Antonio Conte’s Blues and a disappointment they must quickly shake off. Winning 13 games on the bounce does not guarantee a title and, while they remain strong favourites, the Blues must return to Premier League winning ways with their lead only at five points.
Leicester have an opportunity to take advantage of a wounded Chelsea team and remind everyone of their heroic success in 2015/16.