Chelsea overcome tough-tackling Leicester to reach FA Cup semifinals
LEICESTER, England -- Three quick thoughts from Chelsea's 2-1 extra-time victory over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Sunday to move on to the FA Cup semifinals.
1. Chelsea overcome tough-tackling Leicester to reach semis
Pedro kept Chelsea's season alive with an extra-time header as Antonio Conte's men overcame a tough-tackling Leicester City to reach the FA Cup semifinals. Pedro, who replaced Willian at the beginning of extra time, completed a 2-1 victory for Chelsea with his goal in the 105th minute.
Having been knocked out of the Champions League at the round-of-16 stage by Barcelona in midweek, Chelsea's hopes of winning silverware this season rested on a win at the King Power Stadium. But although the visitors took the lead through Alvaro Morata's first-half strike, they were forced to fend off a spirited display by the home side, whose approach bordered on the over-physical at times. Morata was the target of the majority of Leicester's fearsome challenges, with Eden Hazard also on the receiving end.
And when Jamie Vardy levelled the scoreline after the interval with a close-range strike, Chelsea had to withstand late pressure to take the game to extra time.
But while Claude Puel's men went close again through Vardy and Harry Maguire, Pedro's header, following a mistake by Kasper Schmeichel, kept Chelsea on course to go one better than last season's FA Cup final defeat.
2. Morata shows fighting spirit to end goal drought
Alvaro Morata really needed his first-half goal at the King Power Stadium. They say that the eyes don't lie and, whenever the cameras focused on the Chelsea forward after a miss or following a heavy Leicester challenge earlier in the game, his expression was pained to say the least.
Morata has endured a torrid time on and off the pitch in recent weeks, and the Spaniard had gone 13 games without a goal prior to this FA Cup quarterfinal. He had not scored in any competition in 2018, so it was a surprise to him in the starting lineup for this game.
After being subjected to some heavy-handed challenges in the first half, Morata's confidence could have been further damaged, but he showed the kind of fighting spirit demanded by Antonio Conte to respond positively with his 42nd-minute goal.
Willian's burst forward, followed by a perfect pass to Morata, gave the former Real Madrid man a one-on-one with Schmeichel, but we have all seen out-of-form strikers miss those chances. They have too much time to think and allow doubt to creep into their minds, but Morata showed his class by holding his nerve and slotting a right-foot effort beyond Schmeichel.
Having waited so long for a goal, Morata will now hope that this one sets him off on the kind of run he enjoyed at the start of the season. Without more goals from Morata, Chelsea will struggle to claim that crucial top-four finish.
3. Iheanacho proving to be an expensive flop
When Manchester City sold Kelechi Iheanacho to Leicester City for £25 million last summer, they inserted a £50m buy-back clause for the Nigerian forward. That may have been done to protect the Etihad outfit in the event of Iheanacho proving to be a star at the King Power Stadium, but it may also have been a clever ploy to make Leicester believe that £25m was actually a bargain for the then-20-year-old.
Whatever the motivation for the clause, it is safe to assume that Pep Guardiola will not be sanctioning that £50m offer any time soon judging by this, and other, performances for his new club.
Former City manager Manuel Pellegrini believed that Iheanacho was a serious talent and a player who could become that rarity of a homegrown superstar at the Etihad. But his move to Leicester, where he has scored just six goals all season, has been a bad one so far, with the home fans turning on the youngster before he was replaced by Shinji Okazaki on 67 minutes.
Iheanacho's decision not to chase a Maguire through ball in the first half was the trigger that upset the Leicester supporters, with the ball being easily within reach had he chosen to pursue it. He then showed poor awareness with the ball and failed to link with Vardy or Riyad Mahrez whenever Leicester attacked.
Iheanacho is still young enough to prove his worth at Leicester, but he needs to work harder and play smarter in order to do that. If he carries on like this, he will be looking for another club soon.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_