Chelsea and Leicester share spoils in end-of-season party
Chelsea fans’ misery came to an end as the Blues rounded off their season by giving a warm reception to former manager Claudio Ranieri and his title-winning Leicester City.
Two second-half goals, the opener from Fabregas and the equaliser from Drinkwater, were peripheral matters as the visitors continued their parade — and the Blues their holiday — in what fittingly was a love-in for the conquering former Blue Ranieri, who was visibly in tears with the reception he received from all areas of the stadium after his guard of honour.
With Tottenham ending their season in car-crash style, it means the visitors have emphatically walked away with the Premier League title this season, some 10 points clear of second-placed Arsenal. How fitting it was for the parade to start here at Stamford Bridge, the side who won the title by eight clear points themselves only 12 months ago. They sink to their lowest Premier League finish in 20 years, marking a rapid decline in which this season they could only win 12 of 38, draw 14 and lose a further 12.
It also marks the final game for outgoing interim manager Guus Hiddink, who departs Chelsea with a 37% win rate. The man he replaced, Jose Mourinho, recorded a 38% win percentage in the 24 games he was in charge of this season, so a penny — or many millions — for Abramovich’s thoughts about whether the sacking was worth it.
Everyone, in truth, was too merry to care about any action.
Pedro, sporting his mask and indeed Chelsea’s new kit, had the game’s early chance, cutting inside from the left and shooting just wide of Schmeichel left-hand post, with the Dane keen to keep the clean sheet to enhance his status for Golden Glove.
Schmeichel was most definitely the busier of the keepers, having to fend off attacks by Traore, who was leading the line with Costa injured. It was the creative sparks behind him that nearly broke the deadlock with half an hour plated: Willian fed Fabregas in a central position as Leicester were opened up, but Schmeichel stood as sturdy as a rock to whack the ball away.
The favour between the Brazilian and Spaniard was returned seven minutes later when an excellent lay-off from Fabregas was met first-time by Willian, who was to be denied by an excellent one-handed Schmeichel save.
Vardy, on 24 goals for the season and himself chasing Golden Boot, had little to feed off but did have a shot deflected as he tried to get his side firing.
Sensing he needed others to help ignite his side into life, Okazaki and Schlupp were introduced by Ranieri at the start of the second-half. Hiddink made adjustments of his own: Loftus-Cheek and Abraham came on — and later Tomori — but you would imagine not to necessarily win the game but to get critics off his back who have said the Dutchman has not played as much youth as he promised.
It was the re-fired Hazard who would make the game’s big contribution though, engineering an attack through delightful dribbling into the box and, whilst Abraham swivelled and had his shot blocked, the ball was met by the oncoming Matic who was felled by Schlupp.
Craig Pawson had no doubt it was a penalty, and Fabregas sent Schmeichel the wrong way. It was the Spaniard’s fifth Premier League goal of the season, all coming under Hiddink.
But the visitors have the best away — and home — records in the league, and coupled with the fact that the Blues have gone 12 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge without keeping a clean sheet, you sensed they would equalise.
And they would in the 82nd minute out of nothing.
Loftus-Cheek was caught ball-watching and Drinkwater was afforded far too much space in the middle of the park to compose himself from 30 yards. Courtois had the time to see it but it was hit with pinpoint accuracy, as Leicester end the season with only three league defeats.
The less said about Chelsea’s 12 the better.
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Man of the Match
NEMANJA MATIC: Been a dreadful season for the Serbian by any standards, summed up by losing his place to Mikel, but the man linked with a summer move to Juventus had to be alert against a side known for their counter-attacking, and it is a testament to his work today that he kept Vardy, Mahrez and Okazaki at bay. When he did get forward, he won the side’s penalty. 7/10
Hiddink leaves feeling he has done a good job: “Until December, there were big worries as the club were one point away from the relegation zone. My first task was to get away from that and in two months we were out. As a second target, we wanted to go further and get to the top four. [Today] it was a typical end-of-the-season game where there was nothing at stake. We were sloppy after the penalty and they got the equaliser.”
Ranieri was happy to end the season back at his former club: “The emotion is fantastic. It was a good atmosphere and I want to say thank you to our fans and the Chelsea fans. It was amazing. Both teams had great chances and well done to the players.”