Chelsea best Norwich by a single goal in a match that felt contained and calm. Chris Hughton’s side never looked too close to scoring. In fact, at times neither did Chelsea. It was only a magnificent long shot from Mata that gave Chelsea their three points.
Chelsea rotated some members of their squad following their 8-0 massacre of Aston Villa at Stamford bridge. Frank Lampard sat on the bench to start and was replaced by John Obi Mikel. Eden Hazard was also rested, with Oscar taking his place on the left side of Chelsea’s offensive shape.
The Blues’ formation was quite similar to their previous match. Oscar, Juan Mata, and Victor Moses lined up behind Fernando Torres to support the striker. David Luiz and Mikel sat deeper, operating in the central third and providing pivot points of the most advanced players. Their fullbacks pressed forward to allow Oscar and Moses opportunities to cut inward and supplement Torres’ attacking efforts in the box.
Norwich played a 4-4-1-1. Their central midfielders tended to stay deeper to provide support to the defense. Chelsea maintained around 64% of the ball so they were frequently required to play deep and absorb pressure. Wes Hoolahan operated below Grant Holt, looking to latch onto knock-downs and act as the fulcrum between midfield and attack. Left-back Javier Garrido tended to stray farther forward throughout the match, but it was right-back Russell Martin that had a greater influence on the game from a more defensive position.
Ashley Cole and Cesar Azpilicueta both had statistically impressive passing games throughout this match. They experienced precious little pressure throughout the game as Norwich’s fullbacks sat deep and did not pressure far up the pitch. Cole only misplaced 1 pass the entire match, resulting in a 98% pass completion rate. Azpilicueta had the second highest rate for any Chelsea player at 93%
Azpilicueta particularly chipped in some significant creativity. While none of them coalesced into assists, the Spaniard created 4 chances for the Blues.
Norwich’s Strong Defense
What Norwich lacked in counter-attacking sharpness, they made up for in defensive tenacity. They blocked a total of 5 shots inside their box and managed to force most of Chelsea’s efforts to come from distance. The box was frequently stuffed with yellow jerseys.
Aston Villa also attempted to place greater numbers in front of Chelsea’s attack, but completely lost their organization. Norwich were exemplary in their pressuring, deftly covering for each other and closing down threats before splitting passes could be made. Three players that had more than 1 tackle ended with 100% win rates in ground duels: Martin, Alexander Tettey, and Bradley Johnson.
The Canaries midfield, chiefly Tettey, pressured Chelsea extensively in their defensive third, supporting the defensive line that stayed deeper. Tettey contributed to 5 of Norwich’s 17 interceptions.
It’s somewhat of a shame that Chelsea took all the points from this match, for it disguises what was truly an inspired defensive performance from the Canaries. Their defensive game was reminiscent of their tie against Manchester United, where they won 1-0. The only difference today which side had the greater luck.
Contrasting Attacking Styles
The offensive tactics employed by both sides their each other into sharp relief.
Chelsea continued to employ an intricate short-passing style, relying on their attackers to create chances. Despite the low score, Chelsea did produce 14 chances in open play. None of these were clear-cut scoring chances, but this is nonetheless a high tally.
Norwich were quite the opposite, and favored avoiding the central third by playing the ball in the air to Holt. The most common pass combination for Norwich was Mark Bunn to Holt. This direct goalkeeper-to-striker route is illustrative of Norwich’s attacking style. They had a low percentage of completion in the final third: only 59%. This can be chalked up to their direct style of play. Of the 5 chances they created in the match, 3 were from set pieces.
Neither side was convincing in attack. In the entire match, Norwich only had 1 shot on target, and Chelsea only had 3. Chelsea won possession and kept it well, but Norwich were effective at repelling their attacks and limiting any clear cut chances at goals. Norwich themselves struggled to create throughout.
In terms of attacking performances, it was a poor match.
Frankly, it was a bit of a snoozer. But sometimes snoozers are the most inviting games, insofar as they occasionally provoke moments of genius that tip the favor one way or another. Mata had one of those moments today and Chelsea have reaped the benefits.
Chelsea created a plethora of half chances, but nothing concrete. They stole away with three points when a draw would have been the fairest result. They seemed utterly stymied at times by Norwich’s defensive organization, and there was no sign of the resurgent form Torres has been displaying of late.
Norwich continue to display defensive hardiness and a willingness to challenge top table teams. Hughton seems to be a great match for the squad, and it will be interesting to see where Norwich end up by the end of the year.