Chelsea came from 2-0 down to win 4-2 thanks to two goals from super-sub Cesc Fabregas in extra-time of an entertaining EFL Cup tie.
Last season’s champions raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to Okazaki’s brace, but the champions of 2015 showed their quality eventually, with Cahill, Azpilicueta and the two from Fabregas enough to see Chelsea progress at the expense of Leicester.
The victory will please Conte after the weekend’s loss to Liverpool, and their reward is an away trip to West Ham for the EFL Cup Fourth Round, though the defensive frailties are still a concern despite the deadline signing of David Luiz.
Things would have been far more routine for Chelsea had Pedro not been in an offside position prior to slotting the ball in the net after just five minutes, or if Alonso’s cross was marginally closer to the onrushing Batshuayi.
But Chelsea never do things the easy way and mistakes would cost the Blues an early deficit once again. Alonso was dispossessed but none of his back-line covered themselves in glory, and despite Cahill’s efforts to clear Okazaki’s goalbound header off the line, referee Robert Madley had already signalled for a goal.
Batshuayi had a headed opportunity himself mid-way through the first half which was not taken, whilst Loftus-Cheek was enjoying the free attacking role normally afforded to Oscar.
But if coming back to win from a 1-0 deficit was hard enough, it would get all the more harder when Okazaki tucked home his second of the game after more Chelsea mistakes.
Gary Cahill restored some order with a crucial goal just before the stroke of half-time, with the Englishman heading home a Chelsea lifeline from a Fabregas corner.
The deficit was all but wiped out within four minutes of the restart. Azpilicueta was given space to pick his spot and Zieler could only watch as the Spaniard’s right-foot shot fizzed past him and into the Leicester goal.
Conte was keen for the match to be won in the remaining 40 minutes so brought on Costa alongside Batshuayi, and both had chances on Zieler’s goal, the latter turning and shooting before the former introduced himself to the game with a narrow miss.
Begovic still had to be alert to the threats posed by Gray and King, and now Jamie Vardy, who Ranieri introduced with a quarter of an hour to go.
Disaster struck for the hosts when, in a match with some petty and cynical fouls, Wasilewski saw his second yellow in the 89th minute after fouls on first Loftus-Cheek and now Costa.
The one-man advantage was not to be capitalised on in the remainder of normal time, but would be seized upon by Fabregas early in extra-time.
The Spaniard, very much a bit-part player under Conte, made his mark as he latched onto the back of a Hazard backpass to rifle home Chelsea’s third.
It was the first time the Blues were leading and the lead became insurmountable just two minutes later with Fabregas’ second, shooting high into Zieler’s net in a crowded penalty area to seal Chelsea’s spot in the Fourth Round draw.
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Man of the Match
CESC FABREGAS: The Spaniard has had a difficult time persuading Conte he deserves a starting spot, but on this evidence must be more in the Italian’s plans. The Spaniard was creative and dynamic and brought about the victory with his brace in extra-time, but he surely offers something more than Matic in that holding role with his vision for a pass or ability in front of goal? 8/10
Conte singled out Fabregas for praise: “It’s important when I call someone to play and they show me my choice is not wrong. I am pleased for Cesc because he played a good game, he showed me great commitment in the training sessions. I am satisfied when I see this behaviour.”
Ranieri rued lapses in concentration: “I am happy with our performance until 2-0. We started very well and we were in control of the match. The key was when we conceded a goal on the last corner of the half — we lost two dangerous men, Luiz and Cahill.”