Thursday, September 16, 2021

Chelsea look to bounce back against ailing champions

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Chelsea’s Spanish midfielder Pedro (C) celebrates scoring the opening goal during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge in London on December 26, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / Glyn KIRK /

Antonio Conte will hope his Chelsea players have got over the disappointment of their 13-match Premier League run ending and beat Leicester to strengthen their grip on the title race.

Saturday’s visit to the King Power Stadium for a meeting with last season’s champions marks Chelsea’s first league action since the 2-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur that ended their winning streak.

Despite that they still have a comfortable-looking five-point cushion on nearest challengers Liverpool.

Conte had reason to be satisfied with the reaction of his players when they eased past third-tier Peterborough United to secure a place in the FA Cup fourth round.

But having seen his side give their rivals hope that the gap can be closed the Italian taskmaster will be well aware of the impact of dropping more points.

Spanish forward Pedro Rodriguez endured a difficult first season at Chelsea but this campaign he has flourished and he believes the Spurs result is behind them.

“Against Spurs it was a different game,” said Pedro. “We lost, but no problem, we just continue taking it game by game.

“Next we face Leicester, a very difficult team, but we will prepare all week and go for the win.”

The Blues comfortably beat Leicester in the first meeting between the two teams earlier this season and face Claudio Ranieri’s team refreshed following last week’s cup clash.

Conte made nine changes to his side for the Peterborough game, keeping Diego Costa — scorer of 14 goals in 19 games — and Eden Hazard on the bench as unused substitutes while N’Golo Kante will face his former club having played just 17 minutes against Peterborough.

The Frenchman left Leicester for £30 million ($37 million, 34 million euros) in the summer having played a key role in their fairytale title win.

He is set to start against his former team-mates this weekend and Ranieri wants the Leicester fans to give the midfield international a good reception.

Ranieri — named world coach of the year on Monday — could dearly do with Kante as his side are struggling just six points above the relegation places.

“Of course I tried to keep him with all my strength,” said Ranieri. “I am not surprised how well he has done at Chelsea. He’s a very good player.”

The Italian holds no grudges.

“It’s normal that a young boy who comes from France and wins the title goes to a big team,” Ranieri said.

“It’s human. He was our battery, with N’Golo we played with 12 players.”

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