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Aug 23, 2014

Three Points: Chelsea vs. Leicester

Chelsea's Diego Costa was the man to break the deadlock.

LONDON -- A trio of thoughts from Chelsea's 2-0 win over Leicester as Diego Costa and Eden Hazard scored.

1. Chelsea a class above

It wasn't the outstanding statement in the style of the opening win over Burnley, but the manner of this eventual 2-0 victory over Leicester City may be just as important for Chelsea. In fact, it was almost the reverse of that trip to Turf Moor.

After being largely underwhelming in the first half, Jose Mourinho's side admirably picked up their game later to effectively overpower an impressively solid Leicester. Chelsea creditably ratcheted up the performance toward the end of the match when it was required, which was a quality often missing last season, especially at home against teams rather similar to Leicester.

It should put something of a different -- and more nuanced -- spin on Chelsea's start to the season. While there is no denying they were the standout team of the opening phase, that has happened in virtually every recent season so far. It was precisely the case in the Augusts of 2010, 2012 and 2013. In each of those seasons, though, they didn't have the staying power.

The initially poor efforts of this game actually suggested that might be changing; Chelsea rallied wonderfully. By the end, they were even coasting again, with Didier Drogba enjoying a rapturous return to Stamford Bridge. That was effectively facilitated, however, by a striker who might finally be the Ivorian's long-term replacement...

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2. Costa proves a fox in the box for Blues

As the clock ticked toward the hour mark, and a slightly disappointing Chelsea still hadn't scored, many of last season's problems seemed to recur: a home game against one of the Premier League's notionally bottom-half sides, and another struggle.

It cost Chelsea so often last season, not least against the likes of Norwich and Sunderland, and ensured they didn't end the campaign with the title. Then Chelsea showed something else they didn't have last season: a striker who looks capable of regularly solving that issue. It was not just that Diego Costa scored the goal that effectively won and settled the game. It was the manner of it.

After Branislav Ivanovic had done superbly to work his way into the box and force a pass toward the Spaniard, the ball bounced around in a rather scruffy fashion; it looked like it was going to elude everyone. Then Costa eluded his marker to push the ball past keeper Kasper Schmeichel. While you would never liken the striker's overall style of a finisher to Ruud van Nistelrooy, the manner of this effort was hugely reminiscent of the Dutch striker: an awkward bounce, a finish that was not exactly clean, but the required result.

That was all that mattered, and there was an impressive instinct about it. It also fits with what has come before in Costa's career, even if he has never really been associated with that kind of poaching: Of the 39 league goals he has hit in the last three seasons, 38 have been inside the box.

Chelsea often forced those situations against lesser sides last season, but had no none to regularly finish them in the way a peak Samuel Eto'o might have in the past. Now, it appears that won't be a problem. The other aspect is that it is not even the primary reason Mourinho signed Costa. He is the Chelsea manager's archetypal striker, not least for the manner in which he powerfully puts his back to goal and allows other players to run in behind. The likes of Eden Hazard could have a glorious season with Costa in front. The Belgian certainly enjoyed a glorious moment, cutting inside to slot the ball past Schmeichel. Chelsea might just be slotting together, with one distinctive missing piece placed.

David Nugent failed to beat   Thibaut Courtois from close range.

3. Leicester are here to stay

Chelsea must have quickly realised there was no second-guessing Leicester's impressive opening display against Everton. Costa was taken down with a scissor kick, and a tone was set. Minutes later, Riyad Mahrez had his hands all over Eden Hazard, and Cesc Fabregas was complaining about overzealous tackling in the middle. Leicester really got under the skin of the favourites and made it frustrating for them.

For a time, it was as if Mourinho's notoriously muscular team were struggling with the promoted side's pure physicality. Chelsea eventually adjusted and adapted, as you would expect at home from the primary contenders for the title, but it also suggests Leicester have made a good start adjusting to this higher division.

They may have only a point from their first two games, but that is after fixtures against two of last season's top five, and they could have come away with more. For extended periods of the first half, Nigel Pearson's side had the better of the play and chances, and even forced keeper Thibaut Courtois into some fine saves.

Courtois had to be particularly sharp at 0-0 when, with David Nugent left clean through on goal, Courtois made himself huge to deny the striker. It cost Leicester. Rather than going 1-0 up, they were soon 1-0 down. Leicester didn't have enough here, but they should have more than enough to stay up. From this evidence, that should arguably not be the debate. They look like a comfortable 12th-place team, with a vibrant threat to complement their combative nature.

Miguel Delaney

Miguel Delaney is a London-based correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called "Stuttgart to Saipan" (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011. Follow him on Twitter @MiguelDelaney.

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