Raheem Sterling has always known how to make a big impression. His first two goals since joining Chelsea from Manchester City set up a much-needed victory for Thomas Tuchel’s side despite a spirited late comeback from Leicester after Conor Gallagher was shown a red card in the first half.
Sitting in the stands as he served a one-match touchline ban following his spat with his Tottenham counterpart, Antonio Conte, a fortnight ago, Tuchel could only watch in horror at the England midfielder’s meltdown as he was sent off in only his second senior appearance for the club he joined at the age of eight.
But while Leicester will feel aggrieved they could not convert a hatful of chances in a frenetic finish after Harvey Barnes pulled one back, ultimately it was Sterling’s goals in the space of 16 second-half minutes that settled this encounter. “We need him to score – it’s what he does,” said Tuchel, who will return from his ban against Southampton on Tuesday. “The goals gave us the boost that we needed. I’m happy that we showed the mentality to at least have a chance of getting the win. But we were lucky in the end not to concede the equaliser.”
It had taken only a few minutes for the travelling supporters to let Wesley Fofana – who is expected to sign a bumper six-year contract at Stamford Bridge after a £75m fee for the Frenchman was agreed on Friday night – know how they feel about his impending departure. Brendan Rodgers insisted this week that he “is one of the last people who will lose my optimism” after Leicester’s disrupted start to the new campaign, which has yielded only one point. But even he found it hard to fathom how they ended the afternoon empty-handed.
“We went to sleep at the start of the second half,” he said. “It was very frustrating because we should have at least taken a point from the game.” The hosts had surprisingly lined up with a four-man defence that saw Trevor Chalobah make it five academy graduates in the starting line-up, including Gallagher. Chelsea should really have been ahead immediately but Ruben Loftus-Cheek failed to make the most of a brilliant cross from the lively Sterling as Danny Ward denied him. Another powerful run into the box from Loftus-Cheek saw him brought down by Youri Tielemans but the penalty was overturned by VAR after Kai Havertz was marginally offside in the buildup.
Gallagher’s moments of madness came in the space of six minutes: he was shown a yellow card for bringing down Kieran Dewsbury-Hall before a reckless foul on the breaking Barnes following a poor corner by Marc Cucurella.
Apart from the delighted Leicester fans behind the goal, there was a stunned silence as the dismayed Gallagher trudged down the tunnel. “It was a very bad decision from Conor,” Tuchel said. “He is responsible for what he did and of course he knows it was a huge mistake.”
Things could have got even better for Leicester had Daniel Amartey’s goal not been ruled out after the referee, Paul Tierney, deemed Barnes had fouled Édouard Mendy. Jamie Vardy and Timothy Castagne also had opportunities to punish Chelsea before half-time, while Reece James struck the outside of the post at the other end. Mason Mount was sacrificed at the break for César Azpilicueta as Chelsea reverted to a back three and the change of shape paid dividends immediately.
There appeared no real danger when Cucurella’s simple ball infield found Sterling but the England forward’s quick feet created just enough space to curl his effort past Ward from the edge of the area via a deflection off the unfortunate Amartey.
A similar move soon after should have resulted in his second goal for his new club but somehow Sterling’s shot, following another pass from Cucurella, came back off the post. He did not have to wait that long for another opportunity, however. Some excellent play down the right and an inch-perfect cross from James allowed Sterling the easiest of tap-ins at the far post.
Leicester refused to throw in the towel, though, and finally broke through when Vardy and Barnes combined brilliantly outside the area and the latter lashed his finish past Mendy with more than 20 minutes still to play. Barnes and the substitute Kelechi Iheanacho both wasted chances to grab a point for the visitors while Vardy was also denied by Mendy on more than one occasion as Chelsea somehow hung on for a crucial victory.