Drinkwater spares Leicester from closing defeat at Chelsea
Danny Drinkwater struck a stunning late equaliser as Leicester City concluded their fairytale Premier League campaign with a 1-1 draw against outgoing champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Cesc Fabregas’s penalty put Chelsea ahead, but Drinkwater crowned his return from suspension by levelling with a dipping 25-yard effort in the 82nd minute to ensure that manager Claudio Ranieri did not taste defeat on his return to his former club.
Beaten only three times over the whole campaign, Leicester finished the season 10 points clear of second-place Arsenal, with long-time pursuers Tottenham Hotspur a point back in third. They also equalled a club record of 12 consecutive league games without defeat.
Chelsea finished 10th, 31 points off the pace, and while Guus Hiddink said his goodbyes after his second stint as interim manager, there remains uncertainty over the future of captain John Terry.
Suspended for Leicester’s visit, the 35-year-old was set to take part in the post-match lap of honour but has yet to reveal whether he will sign the one-year contract extension that the club offered him this week.
Leicester’s players were granted a guard of honour by their hosts as they took to the pitch beneath bright sunshine in west London, while Ranieri was presented with a memento by Chelsea, the club who had sacked him 12 years previously.
While the home fans said hello again to Ranieri, they also bade farewell to Hiddink, who gives way to Italy manager Antonio Conte, and implored Terry not to end his time at the club on 703 appearances.
On minute 26 — reflecting Terry’s squad number — Chelsea fans in the Shed End held up signs bearing the number 26 as the home ground chanted: “John Terry, we want you to stay!”
The former England captain, sitting behind the dug-outs, acknowledged the display with a raised hand.
Perhaps with next season’s Champions League campaign in mind, Ranieri used the occasion to test out a new system that saw Riyad Mahrez and Demarai Gray flank lone striker Jamie Vardy in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Vardy put two efforts wide, while Gray worked Thibaut Courtois with a firmly hit right-foot strike.
But Chelsea finished the half on top, visiting goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel twice denying Fabregas and saving spectacularly from Willian and Baba Rahman before an offside flag denied Pedro Rodriguez an opener from Willian’s low cross.
Ranieri sent on Jeff Schlupp and Shinji Okazaki at half-time as Leicester reverted to their familiar 4-4-2 shape, while Hiddink looked to the future in the second half with the introductions of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 20, and 18-year-olds Tammy Abraham and Fikayo Tomori, who made his debut.
Fabregas broke the deadlock in the 66th minute, sending Schmeichel the wrong way from the spot after Schlupp had been penalised for flying in towards Nemanja Matic.
But Leicester, fittingly, had the final say as Drinkwater gathered a pass from Schlupp and hit a sweet drive that flashed past Courtois and into the bottom-left corner.
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