Chelsea took control of their destiny by embracing the chaos. Roared on by the 8,000 fans allowed into Stamford Bridge, Thomas Tuchel’s side had no option but to put on a show. The noise was deafening from start to finish and Chelsea made sure that the drama on the pitch matched the atmosphere, making up for their defeat to Leicester in the FA Cup final by battling to a win that leaves them on the verge of qualifying for the Champions League.
This was the opposite of pandemic football. It was utterly breathless, wildly unpredictable and wonderfully intense from first whistle to last.
A touchline brawl near the end felt like a fitting denouement and there was even the prospect of an unlikely smash and grab during the dying stages, Chelsea giving Leicester hope of rescuing a draw after gifting Kelechi Iheanacho a sloppy goal.
It was closer than it should have been. Chelsea were superior throughout and should have been clear long before Antonio Rüdiger’s first goal of the season and a calm penalty from Jorginho put them on course to take third place off Leicester, whose hopes of finishing in the top four will depend on them beating Tottenham on Sunday if Liverpool win their final two games.
Timo Werner had two goals disallowed in the first half and the only disappointment for Tuchel, other than an injury scare concerning N’Golo Kanté, was that his side did not score more.
This was such an improvement from Chelsea, who visit Aston Villa on the final day, after their flat display at Wembley last Saturday. Stamford Bridge was a raucous place at kick-off and the hosts fed off the energy from the crowd during the early stages, ripping forward at every opportunity.
Tuchel craved an early goal. Chelsea needed something to lift the tension and the signs were encouraging when Werner raced towards the Leicester area after spinning away from Wesley Fofana near the halfway line, only for Ben Chilwell to spurn a chance to punish his old side, firing wide.
Chelsea were rampant. Even Youri Tielemans, Leicester’s hero at Wembley, looked overwhelmed, escaping when he appeared to swipe Werner’s legs away in the area.
Chelsea were forcing Leicester into errors and they operated a shoot-on-sight policy at times, Reece James going close from 25 yards and Kanté testing Schmeichel.
The crowd approved. They willed Werner on despite his difficulties in front of goal, applauding when the forward raced back to win a tackle deep in Chelsea territory. Werner was full of positive intent and it seemed that his moment had arrived when he finished adroitly after receiving a pass from the excellent Mason Mount, only for the flag to go up for offside.
Chelsea, four points above Liverpool, did everything but score before the break.
Schmeichel denied them again, pushing a rasping drive from Mount over, and the officials came to Leicester’s aid again in the 35th minute, VAR ruling that Werner had used an arm to bundle the ball over the line.
In the event it was another German who calmed the nerves. Chelsea, who had to replace Kanté with Mateo Kovacic in the 32nd minute, kept knocking on the door and their reward arrived two minutes into the second half. Chilwell sent in a corner and it summed up the pattern of play that Jamie Vardy ended up gifting an opposition defender a goal with one of his few touches of the evening, Rüdiger in the right place to turn the ball in at the Shed End off his left thigh when the Leicester striker’s wayward clearance gave him a tap-in.
It was a moment of pure ecstasy for Chelsea. Rüdiger wheeled away to celebrate with the fans behind the goal and the hosts refused to settle for one.
Uncertain without Jonny Evans in their back three, Leicester wheezed. They lacked composure and Werner relished turning the tables on Fofana after losing his duel with the young Frenchman at Wembley.
It was Fofana who blundered when Mount found Werner. The defender’s tackle was rash as the German was moving out of the area and although Mike Dean initially gave a free-kick, a VAR review showed that the foul was inside the area. Chelsea looked safe when Jorginho beat Schmeichel from 12 yards, low into the right-hand corner, the goalkeeper flummoxed.
Yet Leicester fought. With 14 minutes remaining Wilfried Ndidi robbed Kovacic. Iheanacho, on for the disappointing James Maddison, finished well and Leicester should have equalised but Ayoze Pérez blazed over.
Chelsea lived on the edge during eight minutes of stoppage time. The whistles from the fans were piercing. The relief at full time was immense.