Chelsea vs Leicester City
After the Lord Mayor’s Show – the showpiece of the English football season – comes the dessert and it has the potential to be just as tasty as the main course.
In fact, for the owners of both Chelsea and Leicester City, this clash in the Premier League may be deemed just as important, if not more so, than Saturday’s FA Cup Final.
That’s because the lucrative carrot of the Champions League is on offer for both clubs next season and the financial trappings that come with it are arguably required more than ever after a year in which Covid has hit the sport financially.
As fourth hosts third just 72 hours after they locked horns at Wembley, prepare for Premier League highlights and, potentially, plenty of tension.
In fairness to the Fantastic Foxes, newly crowned FA Cup winners and Premier League champions against all the odds in 2016, they have no right to be ahead of the west Londoners given the financial disparity between the two clubs.
Yet here they are with two league matches remaining and two points ahead of Thomas Tuchel’s charges.
They certainly would not swap their latest glory for anything (and rightly so!) but imagine if they can achieve an FA Cup and Champions League qualification double.
What message would that give for a club where people come before profits?
The onus is certainly all on Chelsea who not only were left hurting after a fine Youri Tielemans strike clinched FA Cup glory, but also the fact that VAR ruled out what looked like a legitimately good equaliser.
Centre back Johnny Evans is almost certainly missing after his return from injury saw him last just half an hour of the final. That means veteran Wes Morgan, who has now lifted both the Premier League and FA Cup as skipper, is in line for a start.
While that restricts the already limited options for Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers, Tuchel is expected to ring the changes.
That could mean a start for Ben Chiwell, who left the east Midlands for West London for a £50 million fee last summer, alongside the likes of Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi who were all on the bench at Wembley.
Whether Chelsea’s own veteran centre back, Thiago Silva, is ready to play a second game in little over 36 hours remains to be seen.
Whoever plays, Chelsea will have to find a way past Kasper Schmeichel who was terrific in the Cup Final, particularly with top drawer saves to deny Chilwell and Mason Mount.
A draw, however, is no good for Chelsea – they must win if they are to keep their top four hopes in their own hands.
The battle for those spots is well and truly hotting up!
The corresponding fixture last season was a game of two halves as Leicester fought back to earn a 1-1 draw in what was Frank Lampard’s first home league match in charge. On that occasion, Mount’s early goal was cancelled out by Wilfred Ndidi.
The season before, Leicester, then managed by Claude Puel, won at Stamford Bridge with a solitary Jamie Vardy goal.
It was over three and a half years ago that Chelsea actually last defeated the Midlanders in the top flight: September 2017 when Alvaro Morata and former favourite N’Golo Kante scored the goals in a 2-1 win. Vardy was again on target for Leicester.
Chelsea, have defeated them in cup competitions though and, overall, have a clear edge. They have won 57 of their clashes with 27 Leicester victories and 35 draws.
Not only did that prove to be Lampard’s final league game in charge but it was the first time Rodgers had defeated the Blues as a manager, previously drawing eight and losing seven in the 15 times he had faced them in all competitions.