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Vardy strikes as Leicester bamboozle Chelsea

London, United Kingdom | AFP | Maurizio Sarri slammed Chelsea’s “strange reaction” as Jamie Vardy fired Leicester to a shock 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Sarri’s side paid the price for failing to convert their chances when Vardy netted early in the second half to hand the Blues their first defeat in five games.

Chelsea’s disjointed display surrendered an 18-match unbeaten run at the Bridge dating back to Tottenham’s victory in April.

Furious Sarri said his players were to blame for their lethargic response after Vardy’s goal.

“After the goal we had a strange reaction; not in the right direction, not as a team, but as 11 different players,” Sarri said.

“It was very strange. We could have done better. We reacted as a team in shock and mental confusion.

“We had only to continue to play as in the first half of the match. There was time to score.

“With a reaction like this I could change 11 players.”

Sarri’s team have lost three of their last six Premier League games and the Chelsea boss is at a loss to explain their malaise against lesser opponents.

“I don’t know why this keeps happening. If I knew I would solve the problem before this match,” he said.

“It’s difficult to understand because we have players with a lot of experience.”

Sarri has insisted he does not expect Chelsea to challenge for the title this season, the Italian rating Liverpool and Manchester City as “two steps ahead” of the Blues.

This was further evidence to support Sarri’s concerns, with Chelsea left trailing 11 points behind leaders Liverpool.

Chelsea remain in fourth place in the Premier League, but they are now above fifth-placed Arsenal only on goal difference, leaving them facing a tense bid to qualify for the Champions League in the second half of the season.

“We said from the beginning, it is impossible for us to fight for the Premier League,” Sarri added.

“For us it’s important we are careful to stay close to the top four.”

Leicester’s first win at Chelsea since September 2000 was well-timed for Foxes boss Claude Puel, who has endured recent reports he could be sacked just 14 months after he arrived from Southampton.

Criticised for fielding a weakened team in the midweek League Cup defeat against Manchester City, Puel said: “This is a fantastic result. I have nothing to justify. I managed my team and tried to protect some players.”

Responding to the critics, he added: “We had a lot of problems at times this season, but it’s important to analyse the games and not just to look at the results or the ranking in the table.”

Despite their territorial dominance, Chelsea’s passing and movement wasn’t precise or fast enough to prise Leicester open.

– Thunderous –
Significantly, Hazard was again deployed up front as Sarri continued with the experiment of using the Belgian playmaker as a ‘false nine’.

Hazard has been less than effusive in his thoughts about the role so far, dropping hints that he would prefer to return to his usual wide position.

Even so, Hazard should have bagged his 100th Chelsea goal after pouncing on a slip from Leicester’s Harry Maguire for a fierce close-range shot that cannoned off the bar.

It was a crucial moment.

Not for the first time this season, Chelsea’s miscues in attack proved fatal.

Showing the cutting edge that Sarri’s team lacked, Leicester punished a moment’s loss of concentration to snatch the lead in the 51st minute.

James Maddison slipped a perfect pass to Vardy, who escaped Cesar Azpilicueta before burying a cool finish past Kepa Arrizabalaga for his sixth goal of the season.

It was the first time Chelsea had conceded a goal at home in six matches and inevitably they turned to Hazard for inspiration.

Beating Leicester’s offside trap, Hazard cut in from the left for a stinging strike that Kasper Schmeichel blocked at his near post.

But Leicester were defending superbly and Chelsea’s luck was out in stoppage-time when Marcos Alonso’s shot hit a post and rolled along the goal-line to safety.

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