Chelsea 2 Leicester 1: Raheem Sterling double secures huge win for 10-man Blues after Conor Gallagher red card
RAHEEM STERLING took the first steps towards winning over the Chelsea fans.
And he did it in the best possible way with his first goals for the club to save a day which looked to be slipping away.
Conor Gallagher’s sending off after only 28 minutes put Chelsea up against it with only ten men for more than an hour.
But a stunning solo goal followed by a tap in was just enough to see off stubborn City and clinch a much-needed win.
It wasn’t quite enough to get the home fans singing but more of this and it won’t be long before Sterling’s name rings out from The Shed End at Stamford Bridge.
It is fair to say that relations between the maverick winger and Chelsea fans have been frosty.
He was always public enemy number one on previous visits with Manchester City, was racially abused here and suffered relentless stick.
But Sterling says he is determined to make the punters love him and there is no better way to do that than by leading your team-mates to victory against the odds.
Gallagher’s early walk for picking up a second yellow card after less than half an hour should have opened the door for Leicester to walk all over a midfield already low on numbers.
His rash tackle on Harvey Barnes symbolised the frustration at Chelsea after tossing away the lead twice against Tottenham then getting pulverised at Leeds last weekend.
Gallagher looked distraught as he trudged off and well he might because Chelsea can barely spare a man at the moment.
With injury to inspirational midfielder N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic only just fit enough for the bench there are holes right in the heart of Tuchel’s team.
The German got a bird’s eye view of Gallagher’s red from his seat in the upper tier of the East Stand.
Tuchel was serving a one match ban of his own for getting sent off in the last home game having picked a fight with Tottenham boss Antonio Conte and come off worse.
There followed a red card for new defender Kalidou Koulibaly at Leeds and now Gallagher.
Chelsea needed a hero and one arrived in the 5ft 7in form of Sterling who was regularly accused of ‘running like a girl’ from the locals here.
The fans were as relieved as anyone when ref Paul Tierney blew the final whistle after six minutes of injury time and another afternoon in which the officials copped it too.
He awarded Chelsea an 11th minute penalty only for it to be ruled out for an offside against Kai Havertz when VAR backtracked.
Sending off Gallagher made him even more unpopular although disallowing a Leicester goal for a foul by Barnes on Edouard Mendy got him back in the good books.
Chelsea cannot do things easily at the moment and that is why boss Tuchel is still hoovering up new players with a deal for City defender Wesley Fofana now a formality after the two teams agreed a fee in excess of £70 million.
But summer signing Sterling was the man in the limelight yesterday, popping up in the nick of time to take the pressure off Tuchel and his players.
He had provided relatively little in the first half. An assist for Ruben Loftus-Cheek whose shot was saved, then a dramatic fall to ground to win a free kick.
But his first goal was a work of art and a glimpse of what he offers for a team that does not possess a fit centre forward.
Barely a minute into the second half had passed when left back Marc Cucurella advanced towards the City box before fine-cutting a pass inside to Sterling.
A gentle stroke with his right foot launched the ball up and over keeper Danny Ward, on the kind of trajectory Rory McIlroy would be proud of with a nine iron.
A goal from nothing and the first instalment of Chelsea’s £47.5 million transfer fee repaid in one virtuoso act of skill.
With his tail up, Sterling was desperately unlucky not to make it two just three minutes later when he hit the post.
But with his juices flowing, Sterling was not finished by a long chalk and helped himself to a second on 63 minutes.
A precise yet powerful cross from Reece James arced through the six yard box and found Sterling unmarked to bury the ball in from no more than two yards out.
Leicester replied through the industrious Barnes just 180 seconds later to test the resolve of Chelsea’s ten overworked players.
City leaped upon a poor goal kick from Edouard Mendy, whose blunder cost his team at Leeds last week. Jamie Vardy swapped passes with Barnes who then blasted in at the near post from a tight angle.
Barnes went close again some time later, although Leicester did not take nearly enough advantage of having the extra man.
Mendy then made up for his earlier slip with a save from Vardy at point blank range.
Chelsea’s 6ft 5in keeper performed even better when he forced Leicester’s veteran striker wide with composed but firm body language with six minutes left.
Sub Ayoze Perez hit the bar late on but Chelsea have a sterling performance from their little winger for three points and a first home win of the season.