London (AFP) – Chelsea gave Antonio Conte a well-timed vote of confidence as Diego Costa and Eden Hazard inspired a 3-0 win against spluttering champions Leicester on Saturday.
Conte had to endure speculation he was in danger of being sacked just three months into his Chelsea reign after bookmakers suspended betting on his dismissal on Thursday.
While Conte laughed off the story, the Italian — under fire after disappointing defeats against Liverpool and Arsenal — is well aware of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s ruthless nature when it comes to firing managers.
If there was any doubt in Abramovich’s mind about Conte, this confident performance, which gave Chelsea a second successive Premier League victory, gave a glimpse of the potential force the former Italy coach is trying to build.
Costa’s seventh league goal of the campaign put Chelsea ahead and Hazard added the second before Victor Moses sealed the rout.
The last time Leicester walked out onto the Stamford Bridge pitch, they were given a guard of honour by Chelsea’s players to mark the culmination of their astonishing title triumph.
But Claudio Ranieri’s side still seem to be suffering a hangover from those celebrations.
They have made a dismal defence of the title so far and are the first reigning English champions to lose their opening four away games since Blackburn in 1995-96.
Having vowed to rotate his team more often to cope with their hectic schedule, Ranieri left Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani and Danny Simpson on the bench ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League clash against Copenhagen.
Yet the changes did little to put a spring in Leicester’s step and they were on the back foot when Moses smashed over a low cross that almost crept in at the near post.
Kasper Schmeichel had repelled that effort at the expense of a corner, but the Leicester goalkeeper was powerless to prevent Costa putting Chelsea ahead from the seventh minute set-piece.
For the fifth time this season, poor defending from a corner was Leicester’s downfall as Nemanja Matic was given space to backheel the cross and, with Foxes captain Wes Morgan reacting too slowly, Costa was left unmarked to finish clinically at the far post.
– Panicked –
David Luiz came within a whisker of doubling Chelsea’s lead midway through the half with a 25-yard free-kick that rebounded off the woodwork.
Watching the influential N’Golo Kante at work in Chelsea’s midfield underlined how much the France international’s presence has been missed by Leicester since he moved to the Blues in the close-season.
Lacking the relentless tempo that carried them to the title, Leicester were bereft of any menace and it was no surprise when Chelsea punished them with a second goal in the 33rd minute.
Once again, Chelsea took advantage of woeful defending as Matic’s pass drew panicked and mistimed attempts to clear from Robert Huth and Luis Hernandez.
Pedro, lying on the turf after slipping, poked a pass to Hazard, who scampered clear as the ball bounced fortuitously off his shoulder before rounding Schmeichel and slotting into the unguarded net for his first Chelsea goal since August.
Although Conte was using Luiz as one of three central defenders, Leicester were so poor that the Brazilian was able to contribute most often in attack and Schmeichel had to push away another of his powerful free-kicks.
Schmeichel was called into action again soon after the interval, plunging to his right to claw away a Moses strike from Kante’s pass.
A rare incisive Leicester move ended with Luiz turning Marc Albrighton’s cross against his own post as he tried to clear.
But Leicester remained second best all over the pitch and Moses capped Chelsea’s stylish show with a fine goal in the 80th minute.
Exchanging passes with substitute Nathaniel Chalobah, Nigeria winger Moses ran clear into the penalty area and planted a low shot past Schmeichel before celebrating with an extravagant back-flip.
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