EPL: Chelsea visit rampant Leicester

Jose Mourinho's claim that Chelsea's season is finally heading in the right direction will face a stern test when the Premier League champions visit unexpected pace-setters Leicester City on Monday.

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri was replaced by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho when he first took over at Chelsea in 2004.   -  REUTERS

Jose Mourinho's claim that Chelsea's season is finally heading in the right direction will face a stern test when the Premier League champions visit unexpected pace-setters Leicester City on Monday.

Claudio Ranieri's Leicester will go into the game having been dislodged from the head of the table by Manchester City, who moved top on goal difference following Saturday's 2-1 victory over Swansea City.

But their form this season has been in stark contrast to that of Mourinho's Chelsea, whose last league outing ended in a shock home defeat by Bournemouth.

That result left the Blues manager stunned and appeared to have undone the progress made by the Stamford Bridge outfit since the last international break. Fortunately for Mourinho - who succeeded Ranieri as Chelsea manager when he first took charge of the club in 2004 - the latest emerging crisis was stalled by the mid-week Champions League defeat of FC Porto, which ensured that Chelsea advanced to the last 16 as winners of their group.

With their European future assured, the club can concentrate on improving a disastrous domestic campaign that sees them currently lying 15th, perilously close to the relegation places.

The expectation ever since the opening weeks of the season was that Chelsea would soon turn things around and resume their challenge for a top-four finish.

But with 14 points separating them from the Champions League qualification places, the manager's belief that his side are back on track must be justified soon if they are to launch a charge up the table.

Right-back Branislav Ivanovic is convinced, however, that Chelsea can now transfer their European form to the Premier League.

“The Champions League is a different style of football, different completely,” said the Serbian. “Teams like Porto like to play more. They are physically not strong like the teams in the Premier League. We need to work very, very hard and much more hard in the Premier League than in the Champions League.”

“This season, as every season here, is so long. The good thing about us is we can still change it,” he added. “We can make a good season. A good season at the moment for us, of course, is not the aim to think about, but focus on every game.”

When the teams last met in April, Chelsea's 3-1 win took them to within sight of the title, while Leicester were battling to avoid relegation.

Since then, the fortunes of both teams have been transformed, with Leicester's rise linked to the startling scoring form of Jamie Vardy.

“Vardy at the moment is running a lot and is making the space for other players as well,” Ivanovic added. “They are confident. I think it will be very hard.”

For Chelsea, the lack of a consistent goal-scorer has reinforced their problems, although Diego Costa at least showed flickers of his old form during the win over Porto.

The striker is again expected to start, with Mourinho likely to keep the same starting line-up, meaning Cesc Fabregas will once again start on the bench.

Vardy was again named Premier League Player of the Month last month after extending his scoring run to 11 successive league games.

That run was broken in last weekend's 3-0 defeat of Swansea City, in which Riyad Mahrez scored a hat-trick, and the Algeria winger believes the pressure on Monday will rest on Chelsea's shoulders.

“I think (the pressure) is for them because we don't have pressure,” Mahrez said. “It's good to be first. No one said at the beginning of the season Leicester are going to be first in December. Never. We're just training, laughing, joking and when it's the game, work hard, work for each other and we will see what we can do.”

“We just focus on our team. Obviously Chelsea are a big club. We just play like we always do and see what we can do.”

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