Fabregas turned in a timely burst of brilliance as Chelsea came from behind to beat Leicester.
This was a cup tie that had everything, but when the dust settles, there might be one man who benefits more than any other. Like his Chelsea team, Cesc Fabregas had grown into the match after a sluggish first 45 minutes, and he played his part in the momentum switch that saw Antonio Conte’s side come back from two goals down.
When the Spaniard completed the turnaround with two quick-fire strikes within the first four minutes of extra-time, it gave Chelsea a win they eventually deserved and served notice that he could yet play an integral part in Conte’s Chelsea revolution.
The outcome looked undoubtedly unlikely when Leicester, through Shinji Okazaki, scored two goals within 34 minutes after some bad defending and threatened to go berserk against opponents who were half a yard slower. Gary Cahill’s header from a Fabregas corner, with the clock ticking down to halftime, came out of the blue but allowed Chelsea to reset with more confidence, and they were an entirely different proposition after the break.
Chelsea, visibly energized, after their equalizing goal within four minutes. It was a stunning goal from Cesar Azpilicueta, who seized upon a loose Marcin Wasilewski defensive header and thudded a vicious 20-yard volley into the roof of a startled Ron-Robert Zieler’s net. That goal set the tone for a basketball-like second period in which the only surprise was a lack of further goals.
Andy King and Ahmed Musa could have scored for the home side, but it was Chelsea who held sway. Zieler saved thrillingly from Michy Batshuayi’s arcing long-ranger and three times to deny substitute Diego Costa, who also slid a one-on-one wide when a goal seemed certain. The late dismissal of Wasilewski, whom Chelsea had looked to exploit all night, for leaving an arm in on Costa and picking up a second booking added a numerical advantage to their territorial superiority, and they quickly made it count.
Less than two minutes of the extra period had passed when Fabregas profited from a wonderful Chelsea move. Another substitute, Eden Hazard, exchanged passes with Nemanja Matic and back-heeled to Fabregas, who casually swept home. Moments later, the midfielder scored again after the otherwise immaculate Zieler fluffed a punch under pressure.
After that second goal, Fabregas ran the length of the pitch to slide on his knees in front of the Chelsea fans. His future has come under considerable scrutiny since the arrival of Conte, whose high-energy style does not suit the 29-year-old’s gifts at face value. This might just have been a contribution to make the manager reassess.
Leicester worked hard to open up a 2-0 lead but, alarmingly for Claudio Ranieri, quickly caved.
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