Conte: Chelsea paid for 'tiredness' after Arsenal match
Chelsea were held to a goalless draw for the third time in succession in all competitions as they were held 0-0 by 10-man Leicester City in a vibrant Premier League encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Antonio Conte's side contrived to make the visitors look world-class in the first half and matters didn't improve after the break. A chorus of boos echoed around the ground when Conte hooked Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas before the hour mark, and while replacements Willian and Pedro certainly livened up Chelsea's play, even after the visitors were reduced to 10 men when Ben Chilwell was sent off in the 68th minute, the Blues could not find a way past Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel.
With Leicester enjoying way too much possession and pushing Chelsea back for long periods of the game, it was important that the Blues defence was able to stand firm. While they rode their luck on occasion, committed blocking tackles were the order of the day and when they didn't work, quality goalkeeping saved the day for Conte.
A goalless draw at home to Leicester isn't good enough, and given Chelsea had a man advantage for the final 20+ minutes of the game, it's even worse. Conte's current penchant to start with a five-man midfield isn't cutting it, and with Hazard being continually closed down, the Blues found themselves on the back foot for long periods of the match, in which they struggled to contain effervescent Leicester duo Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Conte was booed by sections of the crowd for replacing Hazard and Fabregas, but it was to the Italian's credit that he made the substitutions when he did and switched to 4-3-3 as neither player was making an impression on the game. Criticism for the Chelsea manager is due though for initially persisting with a 3-5-2 set-up which has made the Blues look increasingly toothless as opposing teams quickly work out that if Hazard is neutralised there is no additional threat from the advanced midfield positions.
Player ratings (1-10, 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 8 -- Had to be at his world-class best to ensure Leicester didn't win the game. An outstanding early save on a shot by Wifred Ndidi, coupled with excellent positional sense and distribution, made for a man-of-the-match performance which just about sums up the unexpected balance of this game.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- Arguably with the easiest task of Chelsea's backline, Azpi always looked comfortable up against Marc Albrighton and Chilwell. Took greater responsibility for monitoring Vardy and Shinji Okazaki when Gary Cahill left the pitch injured, and assuming the captain's role came easily to the Spain international.
DF Gary Cahill, 5 -- Made some decent blocking tackles, but looked leggy up against Vardy and was forced off in the 33rd minute with a hamstring injury trying to keep pace with the Leicester striker.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 7 -- With Mahrez in sparkling form, this was a true test of the Germany international's defensive credentials and the 24-year old generally acquitted himself well, though there were a couple of nervy moments when he couldn't handle the Leicester man's trickery on the ball.
MF Victor Moses, 5 -- Allowed the game to pass him by for long periods and offered little in the way of creativity when in possession, which included the occasion he was on the ball and Chilwell came in to make his red-card tackle.
MF Marcos Alonso, 5 -- There was a moment in injury time at the end of the match when the Chelsea crowd held its breath as Alonso sized up a free kick. The Blues wing-back struck the ball sweetly, but Schmeichel made a world-class diving save. Had he scored, Alonso would have been man of the match, but it wasn't to be and there was little else to commend the wing-back on in a generally lacklustre display.
MF N'Golo Kante, 7 -- As expected, up against his former club, Kante put in a tigerish display and it was just as well as he did the work of three men in Chelsea's midfield, pulling up the slack of Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko when Leicester pressed. Continuously having to tackle, an overzealous challenge on Okazaki brought the France international a yellow card.
MF Tiemoue Bakayoko, 5 - Unfortunately, Bakayoko has become a target for abuse from small sections of the Chelsea crowd. Against Leicester, the 23-year old struggled to impose himself in midfield and a couple of mistimed passes won't help matters with the boo brigade.
FW Cesc Fabregas, 5 -- Brought a great save out of Schmeichel early in the game, but only showed flickers of skill and his delivery from a series of corners Chelsea won was frustratingly poor. Replaced before the hour mark.
FW Eden Hazard, 6 -- Showed very early flashes of skill that troubled Leicester's backline, but after the opening 10 minutes, he was closed out of the game. Doesn't look to be 100-percent fit following a recent calf injury. How Hazard will respond to being hooked before the hour will be interesting -- a cue perhaps for stories linking him with a move to Real Madrid once again.
FW Alvaro Morata, 5 -- Another blank for Morata whose cause wasn't helped at the outset by Conte's initial tactics. Even when flanked by Willian and Pedro after the Italian's tactical change, the striker lacked the imposing swagger and confidence to really get engaged with the game. A late yellow for a cynical foul just about summed up the Spaniard's world of pain at the moment.
DF Andreas Christensen, 7 -- Thrust unexpectedly into the fray when Cahill was injured, Christensen had no problem settling immediately into the game and Chelsea arguably looked more solid at the back against Vardy and Mahrez with the 21-year old in their ranks.
FW Willian, 6 -- Gave Chelsea more impetus going forward, which wasn't difficult, but failed to find a way through Leicester's well-organised backline. Perhaps if he'd won the argument with Alonso over who should take the last ditch free kick, he could have been the Blues' hero for the day, but it wasn't to be.
MF Pedro, 6 -- Like Willian, it was extra craft with no end product from Pedro, who found Leicester players blocking his path whenever he had the ball.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco
LONDON -- Mauricio Pochettino hailed the way his Tottenham team has responded to last month's one-sided defeat at Manchester City after they thrashed Everton 4-0 on Saturday.
Runaway league-leaders City underlined their Premier League dominance by hammering last season's runners-up 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Dec. 16, to move 21 points clear of Pochettino's side.
Since then, Spurs have won five out of six games, only failing to beat West Ham in a frustrating 1-1 draw, and Saturday's victory over the Toffees moved them level with fourth-place Liverpool, who host City on Sunday.
Pochettino suggested that the result at City was a turning point, and praised the character of the squad for responding.
"Manchester City was a tough defeat," Pochettino said. "They were so clinical. The game wasn't bad [for us], only that they were and are in an amazing moment. It was so important to work hard, try to keep going and show we can win games and fight for big things.
"Always the character is so important when you receive this type of defeat -- you have to stand up and start to win games. I'm so pleased with the character [of the squad]."
Pochettino added of the thrashing at Eastlands: "Sometimes the circumstances in which you play are not the best. Manchester City is keeping consistency, their level in the last six or seven months. They are doing so well.
"If you want to win big things -- the Premier League, the Champions League -- that is our challenge [too]. All that we showed today, we must [show] in every game we play, every week. That is our challenge, our objective. It's tough to be at this type of level for a long period."
Harry Kane scored two second-half goals to surpass Teddy Sheringham as Spurs' all-time leading Premier League marksmen on 98 and Pochettino said 2017's top goal scorer in elite European football would only continue to break records.
"He's fantastic. He deserves all the credit and a lot of praise -- I congratulate him one more time," Pochettino said of Kane, who needs 15 goals in 15 games to finish as the top-scorer ever in a Premier League season.
"Wow, a lot of numbers in my head! He can do everything because of his mentality, how he is as a professional. He can achieve all he wishes and wants.
"He's unbelievable, the way he's able to work, his willingness. He's always trying to improve, improve, improve, and score goals for the team. His mentality is collective and that's so important. He scores but his mentality is to help and to work for the team.
"That makes him a special player. Not only talented but in his mind he tries to help ad playing collectively. His effort is for the team."
Kane's first goal came after Son Heung-Min had turned Jonjoe Kenny sublimely and crossed, and the South Korean made it 1-0 win a tap-in, scoring for a fifth consecutive league game before playing a part in Christian Eriksen's brilliant fourth.
"It was a great performance [from Son]," Pochettino said. "Not only today, but for one, two, three months we're talking about Sonny's performances. He's more mature than last season. His performances are helping a lot. Today, everyone can see he's more reliable, has more belief, more confidence in every game. It's fantastic. This season he's doing so, so well.
"Of course, we give him credit he deserves. He's very important player for us. Of course, like always when you play next to a player like Harry Kane, who is breaking records every week, it's difficult to focus on another. Us, as a coaching staff, we are always going to give him the credit he deserves. Sonny deserves a lot of credit for Tottenham.
"We work hard, all the staff -- us, sports science, medical -- to try to help the players. For me, he deserves the credit. It's him. We work, we talk but in the end, it's always the talent and the belief of the player, to show all they have inside, their talent. Of course, we talk a lot but he deserves the credit."
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.