Third-placed Leicester know a win would cement their place in the top four after their recent wobble in the Premier League saw them lose two of their past three.
It’s a match that takes on even greater significance for the Foxes after they missed out on a day at Wembley for the Carabao Cup final, dumped out of the semi-finals in dramatic fashion by relegation-battlers Aston Villa.
Trailing Leicester by eight points and just six above fifth-placed Manchester United, Chelsea know they can ill-afford to lose pace by tasting defeat at the King Power Stadium.
And with so much at stake, both Leicester and Chelsea will lean on two young English No 10s as they have done all season. England head coach Gareth Southgate will be watching on closely.
Both Leicester’s James Maddison and Chelsea’s Mason Mount had a huge say in the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge back in August.
Mount nicked the ball off Wilfred Ndidi to score Chelsea’s opener while Maddison spurned a number of opportunities to first level, and then win the match in an otherwise productive creative display.
There are obvious similarities between the pair. Maddison is 23, Mount 21, both are England internationals and both are creative, midfielders who are best categorised as modern No 10s.
Maddison took the long route to the top through the football league. Moving from hometown club Coventry, to Norwich and finally to Leicester, the midfielder has made the step up each time look effortless.
After creating the most chances in the division last campaign, Maddison has again been central to everything that’s good about Brendan Rodgers’ side this season.
In 23 matches he’s scored six goals, assisted three times, created 59 chances (fourth-most in the Premier League) and made 925 passes with an accuracy of 83%.
Maddison has the ability and confidence to take on players too with 69 dribbles this campaign. His late winner against Tottenham saw him drive into space and score with a dipping, swerving strike from outside the box.
Having started in League One as a slight teenager, Maddison has developed with an aggression to his game too. His 42 tackles in 2019/20 place him far above most attacking midfielders in the division.
Mount’s production is slightly lower than Maddison’s, understandable given this is his debut season in the top flight. The Chelsea man has five goals, two assists and significantly fewer passes with 649 this season.
At 57 shots he’s attempted one more than Maddison’s 56 but has attempted 21 fewer dribbles than the man two years his senior.
Yet Chelsea have been reliant on their academy product to produce this season and are a less productive side without him on the pitch. In the New Year’s Day game with Brighton, Chelsea ran out ideas after Mount was substituted and went on to concede a late equaliser.
With top scorer Tammy Abraham expected to miss the trip to Leicester through injury, the need for Mount to deliver is felt more keenly.
After years of England lacking any credible creative midfielders, suddenly there are three. Villa’s Jack Grealish has been one of the best in the division this season but without an England call-up yet, he might have come a little late to the party.
So Saturday’s BT Sport match could well act as an audition for a place in England’s starting XI this summer either as an out-and-out No 10 or in the midfield three with two pivots as Southgate has preferred.
With Harry Kane facing a battle to be fit for the tournament, whoever plays behind the striker could go a long way to determining England’s success at the Euros.
Southgate suggested Mount was always earmarked for the England squad after calling him up for the first time back in October.
“Nothing I’ve seen surprises me at all,” Southgate said of the Chelsea youngster’s form early on this season. “We’ve had him marked as a player from the first time I saw him at St George’s Park.” He’s since won six caps and scored his first international goal in the 4-0 away win in Kosovo.
For Maddison, selection for England has been less straightforward. He was called up for the first time in October but withdrew from the squad due to illness. Maddison was subsequently photographed enjoying a night out in a casino.
“It wasn’t a great decision,” Southgate said of the incident. “It’s not a good situation for a player when we’re talking about him here and he’s yet to get on the pitch for us.
“So that’s the challenge. You want to be high-performance, low-maintenance. I am prepared to work with players who are more difficult but you’re more likely to back those players if they’ve scored the winner for you or sweated blood for you.”
Maddison eventually did make his debut as a substitute in England’s 7-0 win over Montenegro. It’s his sole cap for England and given Southgate’s comments, he has a battle on to secure regular football for the Three Lions.
And he’ll come face-to-face with one of the men standing in his way on Saturday. For Mount and Maddison, this match is even bigger than Leicester against Chelsea.