LEICESTER, England -- Three quick thoughts from King Power Stadium as Chelsea defeated Leicester 4-2 in extra-time to advance in the EFL Cup.
1. Fabregas wins it, gives himself a lifeline
This was a cup tie that had everything but when the dust settles, there might be one man who benefits more than any other. Like his Chelsea team, Cesc Fabregas had grown into the match after a sluggish first 45 minutes and played his part in the momentum switch that saw Antonio Conte's side come back from two goals down.
When the Spaniard completed the turnaround with two quickfire strikes of his own within the first four minutes of extra-time, it gave Chelsea a win they eventually deserved and served notice that he could yet play an integral part in Conte's Chelsea revolution.
That outcome looked decidedly unlikely when Leicester, through Shinji Okazaki, went two goals up within 34 minutes after some negligent defending and threatened to run amok against opponents who looked half a yard slower. Gary Cahill's header from a Fabregas corner, with the clock ticking down towards half-time, came out of the blue but allowed Chelsea to reset with more confidence and they were an entirely difference proposition after the break.
In fairness, there was little chance of Conte allowing a repeat performance and Chelsea, visibly energised, were level within four minutes. It was a stunning (and rare) goal from Cesar Azpilicueta, who seized upon a loose Marcin Wasilewski defensive header and thudded a vicious 20-yard volley into the roof of a startled Ron-Robert Zieler's net. That goal set the tone for a basketball-like second period whose only surprise was a lack of further goals.
Andy King and Ahmed Musa could have scored for the home side but it was Chelsea who held sway. Zieler saved thrillingly from Michy Batshuayi's arcing long-ranger and three times to deny substitute Diego Costa, who also slid a one-on-one wide when a goal seemed certain. The late dismissal of Wasilewski, whom Chelsea had looked to exploit all night, for leaving an arm in on Costa and picking up a second booking added a numerical advantage to their territorial superiority and they quickly made it count.
Under two minutes of the extra period had passed when Fabregas profited from a wonderful Chelsea move. Another substitute, Eden Hazard, exchanged passes with Nemanja Matic and backheeled to Fabregas who casually swept home. Moments later, the midfielder scored again after the otherwise immaculate Zieler fluffed a punch under pressure.
After that second goal, Fabregas ran the length of the pitch to slide on his knees in front of the Chelsea fans. His future has come under considerable scrutiny since the arrival of Conte, whose high-energy style does not suit the 29-year-old's gifts at face value. This might just have been a contribution to make the manager reassess.
2. Leicester in control but throw it away
Leicester were in total command before Cahill's goal and the extent to which things unraveled for them was startling. Like Chelsea, they had made seven changes to their side but for 49 minutes this looked like an evening to appreciate the speed and guile of Ahmed Musa, the dynamism of Demarai Gray, the creativity of Andy King and the sheer tenacity of Okazaki.
The Premier League champions certainly have greater squad depth this season and at times it showed; Okazaki may well lose his regular spot to Islam Slimani but deserved his two goals here, Musa is surely too good to be a regular substitute and in goal, German international Zieler made some outstanding saves before his late fumble under pressure.
Yet they were not able to see the win through and nor, after waves of Chelsea pressure, were they able to resist opponents who by the end were dissecting them at will. The lumbering Wasilewski, now 36, was a weak link in defence. His thoughtless dismissal severely reduced Leicester's chances of stemming the tide as the tie entered extra-time; it would be a surprise if he was seen in the club's colours again.
The move that led to Azpilicueta's goal began when a Leicester corner was cleared and the thought occurred that, last season, a certain N'Golo Kante might have been around to stop the break at source. Kante was on the bench here, denied the chance of a proper reunion with his former fans and as the match progressed, Leicester's lack of a player possessing his physicality and bite in the middle became clear.
In the end, this defeat is hardly a disaster for Leicester. They have bigger fish to fry in the form of Manchester United on Saturday and FC Porto in the Champions League a week from now. But the relentlessness and grit of last season are not quite there and Claudio Ranieri's new blend needs time to become a satisfactory fit.
3. Chelsea's defence get away with a shocker
They got away with it here but all of a sudden, Chelsea's defence is displaying some of the signs that made last season a write-off. Their first-half performance continued in the same shaky vein as their Premier League showings against Swansea and Liverpool, with Okazaki's opener resulting from a comedy of errors.
Chelsea brought it entirely on themselves and the sequence did little to suggest that their defensive resources are cut out to repel quality opponents. The move began when Marcos Alonso, the £23 million left-back, who was making his debut here, gave the ball away midway inside his own half. Possession was swiftly moved out to Musa on the right flank. His delivery evaded Gary Cahill too easily, cannoned off an unprepared Azpilicueta and looped back towards Okazaki at the near post. Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic might have put up braver resistance; instead, the striker was allowed to nudge a header past him and the ball drifted a foot over the line before Azpilicueta managed to hook it clear.
It was shambolic stuff from every member of Chelsea's defence except, perhaps, David Luiz and there had been a warning sign moments previously when Okazaki robbed Cahill in a dangerous area and both visiting centre-backs recovered to thwart the breaking Musa.
The second goal, 34 minutes in, was well crafted but Luiz might still have got closer to Okazaki when he ran unattended onto a well-weighted Andy King chip. The finish bobbled beyond Begovic and just as with the first goal, Azpilicueta's attempt at a clearance came too late.
At this point Leicester, full of verve and invention, simply looked too sharp and quick for Conte's side. The ship was steadied from half-time onwards; aside from a Musa chance that arose when Luiz and Cahill were beaten by a Zieler goal kick, things could hardly have been much worse.
In mitigation, John Terry's injury absence is inconvenient while Azpilicueta swapped flanks here to accommodate Alonso's first game. Yet an ensemble of seasoned, expensive professionals should be showing more aggression and leadership than this; with Terry hardly a solution for the future at 35 years old, it's an issue that needs to be addressed quickly.