Chelsea’s seamless progress under Thomas Tuchel had threatened to be undone by back-to-back defeats by Arsenal in the Premier League and the Foxes in last Saturday’s FA Cup Final left them vulnerable of slipping out of the top four.
On the eve of the rematch with Brendan Rodgers’s side, there was therefore a real danger of Chelsea’s promising campaign simply spiralling out of control, potentially throwing Tuchel’s future into doubt and derailing the club’s rebuild.
But with Tuchel and players under more scrutiny than at any point since the German replaced Frank Lampard in January, the manner of Chelsea’s performance suggested the manager is instilling a steely mentality in the squad.
“It felt like a huge effort and a top performance,” Tuchel said after victory confirmed their top-four finish. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big step but it’s only a step, it’s not done yet. We have to get over the line on Sunday. It was a team effort full of intensity, full of hunger and ambition. We played many minutes with a lot of quality.”
While Leicester looked like they had come to Stamford Bridge for the point that would keep Champions League qualification in their own hands on the final day, the Blues went for the jugular from the off and, were it not for wasteful finishing and bad luck, would have been out of sight by half-time.
Chelsea maintained their authority even after the loss of N’Golo Kante, who asked to be substituted on 30 minutes with a tight hamstring.
Timo Werner’s cursed luck continued as he twice had efforts disallowed in the first half and was denied a penalty by referee Mike Dean for stepping in front of Youri Tielemans’ backlift.
Antonio Rudiger finally broke the deadlock seconds after the restart, bundling home at the back post from Jamie Vardy’s inadvertent flick, and Jorginho doubled their lead from the penalty spot after Werner’s perseverance was finally rewarded by the VAR following a Wesley Fofana foul.
The main worry for Tuchel, aside from Kante’s fitness, was a messy late goal conceded to substitute Kelechi Iheanacho when Mateo Kovacic was caught in possession while Chelsea were playing out from the back.
Such carelessness is certain to be punished by Manchester City in the Champions League Final in 10 days’ time and it was a reminder that, for all their character on Tuesday night, Tuchel’s side are still a work in progress.
Leicester could feel aggrieved that arguably the biggest League game of their season was played in front of 8,000 Chelsea fans, which undoubtedly helped to energise the hosts.
“It was a completely different match,” acknowledged Tuchel. “Football with spectators and without spectators, you can’t compare.”
Leicester will have their own fans back at the King Power Stadium for Sunday’s season-finale against Tottenham but, by then, their top-four hopes could be out of their hands if Liverpool win at Burnley tonight.
The impact of the return of fans is such that Chelsea should take nothing for granted when they visit Aston Villa on Sunday, even knowing that they will have achieved their main aim for the season if they can match Leicester’s result against Spurs.