Chelsea have beaten Norwich City 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in their first Premiership game since the international break in an entertaining but dramatic game.
The game began relatively slowly as both sides sought space in the other’s half without clear success, but Chelsea’s pressing was good in the first few minutes. Norwich won a corner that was easily dealt with and Chelsea’s passing across the middle of the pitch improved compared to previous performances.
The midfield benefited greatly from having Kenedy- starting at left-back- coming into the centre and giving support to a part of the pitch that has been porous so far this season. The first chance just before the 10th minute when Hazard ran down the left wing, beating his marker easily, and cutting the ball back from by-line for Fabregas to put it over at the near post.
A corner from Willian was the flicked wide from Terry moments later, and then the Brazil international himself had a shot on goal when given the ball by Hazard- who had made a fantastic, searing run through the centre of the pitch- but could only find Ruddy’s legs from inside the area as Chelsea began to take control of the game.
Some of those who have been well below their best looked sharper than they have done at any other point this season. Hazard’s skill complemented Willian’s usual energy as Chelsea looked brighter and were able to apply pressure for longer periods of time. For Norwich’s part, their first chance of the game came from good work across the edge of Chelsea’s box but Mbokani put the ball over the bar when he should have done better.
Brady, Norwich’s brightest player in the first half, ran into the box and looked for a moment as if he was going to fashion a clear cut chance but Zouma did well to cover his run and shepherd the ball back to Begovic. Costa should have at least got the ball on target when Pedro cut it back into the centre of the box, his international teammate putting it over the bar. Costa probably would have done better from a Hazard cross soon after had it been him a few yards out and not Willian over whom the ball just drifted over.
Despite the lack of cutting edge in the away side’s area, there was something approaching the energetic, high pressing game that was on display 12 months ago. Norwich have showed signs of ambition and were denied what they thought was a penalty when Brady fell under pressure from Willian just inside the area but both real time and replay footage showed the Canaries’ forward went down far too easily.
Chelsea were denied a penalty themselves as the game approached the break when Costa received the ball from a cutting pass into the box from Willian and fell as he tried to turn Bassong. Like Brady it was obvious that he could have stayed on his feet had he wanted to.
The game opened up even more as it approached the break with chances as first Sebastian Bassong and then Diego Costa had shots blocked- by Terry and Ruddy respectively- when both found themselves in the box with time on the ball.
With the game still deadlocked at half time, it was the home side that began the second half the better as they sought to increase the pressure. Two free-kicks from Willian in similar positions on the right hand side of the box came to nothing, and Zouma should have got the ball on target when the Brazil international put another ball into the box, this time from a corner.
By far the better side at the start of the second half, Chelsea hemmed Norwich into their own half without cutting through or turning their pressure into openings on goal. Hazard, Pedro and Fabregas all took turns with the ball on the edge of the box but none could create a chance for an opponent or themseles.
On more than occasion a ball was played into the box that Costa wasn’t alive to and didn’t make the run across the box in order to exploit. He compensated, however, in the 63rd minute when he gave the Blues the lead to the great relief of almost everyone inside Stamford Bridge. A quickly taken free-kick from Willian on the half way line found both Costa and Pedro running clear on goal. With the former Barcelona man drifted away to the centre to create space for Costa, the striker cut in from the left and finished brilliantly with his right foot past Ruddy into the corner.
Chelsea almost doubled their lead minutes later, a free-kick from Willian finding Zouma but the Frenchman could only hit the bar with the out stretched right foot. Norwich came to close to leveling in the 68th minute with a good shot from the impressive Brady going just wide.
Norwich responded by making a triple substitution to bolster their attack but it was still Chelsea that had most of the ball and threatened the game’s next goal. More passing across the box resulted in a shot from Pedro that went wide. The Spaniard was denied a clear penalty with ten minutes left when he was put in on goal after more good passing but hacked down by Bennett.
A long run from Matic past several Norwich defenders forced a good save from Ruddy at his near post, and Norwich did their best to level in the last few minutes, the away side playing a number of balls into the box in the hope of finding the head of Cameron Jerome. Chelsea’s defence, so bad at vital times this season, still looked shaky but they held firm and see the team out to a 1-0 win that will settle some nerves at Stamford Bridge.
There is still a great deal of work to do, but this is a start.
CHELSEA: Begovic; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry (c), Kenedy; Fabrégas, Matic; Willian (Ramires, 87), Pedro (Oscar, 85), Hazard (Azpilicueta, 90); Costa.
Subs: Blackman, , Traore, Cahill, Remy, Azpilicueta.
Scorers: Costa (63)
Manager: José Mourinho
NORWICH: Ruddy; Wisdom, R.Bennett, Bassong, Olsson, O’Neil, Redmond, Mulumbu (Dorrans, 73), Brady, Howson (Hoolahan, 73), Mbokani (Jerome, 73).
Unused subs: Rudd, Whittaker, Lafferty, Odjidja-Ofoe.
Manager: Alex Neil
Referee: Craig Pawson