December 22, 2018 / 6:24 PM / 3 months ago

Soccer-Chelsea struggle without a striker in Leicester defeat

LONDON, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Chelsea were left ruing the lack of a clinical forward when they fell 1-0 to Leicester in the Premier League on Saturday in their first home defeat of the season.

Coach Maurizio Sarri deployed Belgian winger Eden Hazard up front in a false nine position flanked by Willian and Pedro, while Olivier Giroud was benched.

Chelsea enjoyed a lot of possession but could not convert it to clear-cut chances, with Hazard missing the two which came his way.

In the first half he struck Kasper Schmeichel’s crossbar with a powerful drive and the Danish goalkeeper pulled off a fine save to tip another Hazard effort to safety after the break.

Giroud was thrown on for the final half-hour but the French striker could not force his way into the game.

“I was really very happy at the end of the first half — we played very well. We were dangerous, we gave the opponents nothing,” said Sarri.

“I was really very happy with the team, the use of Hazard like a striker. Then after the goal the position of Hazard was not important.”

Chelsea, fourth in the table, have struggled to get goals from their attackers all season, with the exception of Hazard who has eight Premier League strikes.

Alvaro Morata has just five league goals in 14 appearances and is set to return from injury when Chelsea face Watford on Boxing Day, but Sarri may persist with Hazard in the middle.

The Italian coach blamed the defeat on Chelsea losing their rhythm after Jamie Vardy’s 51st-minute goal, rather than a lack of firepower.

“After the goal the reaction for me was strange, not in the right direction, not as a team, as 11 different players,” added Sarri.

“It was very strange. We could have reacted better. We had to continue to play like in the first part of the match. There was time to score.” (Reporting by Rik Sharma; editing by Clare Fallon)

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