“Boring, boring Chelsea!” the Chelsea fans chanted gleefully, like Arsenal quarter of a century ago, appropriating the term of abuse as a badge of honour. Is it their fault they seemed to be saying, if their team defended so well nobody could score against them.
Except this win, which took them to within two points of the league title, wasn’t about sitting back and waiting for mistakes. For once, Chelsea’s defence did fail them, but they had the quality and the hunger to come from behind and seal a victory that means they will seal the Premier League title if they beat Crystal Palace on Sunday.
It had been a first half that seemed to be fitting the general template of Chelsea’s relentless march to the title, in that nothing much had happened.
Chelsea were defending well, and had seen off an early spell of pressure. Not until the 41st minute did Leicester, despite playing well, muster a shot worthy of the name Paul Konchesky arriving at the back post to guide a right-wing cross goalwards. Petr Cech, making his fifth start of the season in place of Thibaut Courtois, made a fine save low to his right.
Perhaps that should have been a warning. Four minutes later, Jamie Vardy led a break down the left and pulled the ball back across the box. It looked ill-directed, but Cesar Azpilicueta slipped and Marc Albrighton had time to measure a sidefoot into the bottom corner, his first goal for the club. The turnaround in Leicester’s fortunes has been remarkable as it finally has begun to get the sort of results its performances have warranted. Seemingly certainties for relegation at the beginning of the month, they suddenly seemed on the brink of a fifth successive win that would have carried them four points clear of the relegation zone.
A Leicester victory would surely only have delayed, rather than disrupted Chelsea’s title march, but thoughts they might win a fifth game in a row were swiftly extinguished. Fewer than three minutes of the second half had passed when Branislav Ivanovic crossed low for Didier Drogba to sweep in an equaliser. Having been forced into proactivity, Chelsea looked far more dangerous in the second half, even if their best moments still came on the break.
Finally, with 12 minutes to go, there came the breakthrough. Kasper Schmeichel got down well to keep out Gary Cahill’s header form a left-wing corner, but John Terry was on hand to poke the ball over the line. It seems remarkable now to think that Chelsea’s captain, who has been excellent all year, looked finished four years ago as Andre Villas-Boas tried to get him to play a high line.
Five minutes later, Cesc Fabregas cut the ball back and Ramires lashed a gleeful shot into the roof of the net to make certain of the win, a picture-book goal to round off a win that had more to do with commitment and desire than aesthetics. As so often in recent weeks, Chelsea had found a way to win from an unpromising position and it is their capacity to do that, above all else, that has carried them to the title.
FOLLOW US ON TWITTER @NatSportUAE