From boys to men, to the FA Cup semi-finals. Frank Lampard brought off three of his kids for three of his senior players – including match-winner Ross Barkley – and thereby brought Chelsea to Wembley, while again showing Leicester City just how far off the big boys they are.
Lampard’s side are in line for a fine end to the season and maybe even a landmark first trophy of this regime. Leicester are badly blowing off course.
Brendan Rodgers’s side just couldn’t live with Chelsea once the changes were made, and are now in dire need of a transformation themselves. They obviously have bigger objectives than the FA Cup, but what was so troublesome for them about this 1-0 home defeat was how it continues their awful form in terms of results and goals, and speaks towards a slide that may yet cost them a place in the top four and the Champions League.
Chelsea meanwhile showed them how you take charge, and take chances. Lampard acted decisively to haul off Billy Gilmour, Reece James and Mason Mount at half-time, with one of the subs – Barkley – claiming a richly deserved goal.
This elimination goes alongside a mere two wins from 10 in the Premier League for Leicester, and four blanks in the last eight games.
If there’s always been a sense that Leicester were over-performing up to then, and that they were eventually going to level out, that still doesn’t explain how underwhelming they’ve recently been going forward. It’s as if they’ve lost their verve, their sharpness.
This is personified by Vardy. Leicester’s form as a team almost completely aligns with his form as a striker. The flatter play indicates that there’s a bit more to this than him no longer finishing their moves, but the difference is, well, striking.
Just as they have gone from supposed title challengers to a side now hanging onto the top four, he has gone from one of the Premier League’s most prolific scores to one of the most profligate. A total of 16 in 16 in the league has become a mere three in 15 in all competitions.
The difference seemed to be summed up in a touch when he was finally put through just before half-time. Rather than sharply take himself in on goal, as had been the case for half the season, Vardy took a touch that dragged him wide. He was forced to snatch at the chance, and put it wide, where you once could have imagined him spearing it into the corner.
It was all the more frustrating for Leicester since they had clearly had the better of the game at that point, as indicated by Lampard’s triple half-time substitution. All the kids – Gilmour, James and Mason Mount – were hooked for Barkley, Mateo Kovacic and Cesar Azpilicueta.
Chelsea immediately re-asserted their quality, and authority. They were already beginning to repeatedly punch holes in Leicester’s structure before Barkley cut through them. The goal was so elegant when it came. Willian so smartly clipped it in, for Barkley to just guide it past Schmeichel.
Rodgers had to work out how to change the situation but, as has been the case in the Premier League, it kind of just stagnantly stayed as it was for Leicester. It does feel as if they are a bit too programmed into a way of playing right now, and need more variation to it.
The absence of James Maddison will be pointed to here but, more generally, it’s the absence of Ricardo Pereira that particularly affects them. He offers such drive to the side that allows them to break lines much more easily. Without him, they’re that bit more passive.
That was all the more pronounced against Chelsea’s second-half changes. Lampard suddenly had runners – and particularly Barkley, Christian Pulisic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – coming from everywhere.
They’re now going to Wembley, as a consequence. Leicester had nothing in response. Their meekness was in such contrast to Lampard’s bravery. Big decision, and another big stride.