Demba Ba replaced Fernando Torres for the visitors, the Spaniard serving his one game suspension for his sending off against Tottenham. Ramires returned to his more natural role alongside Frank Lampard in the double pivot. Juan Mata deputised on the right hand side in the Brazilian’s absence. Andre Schurrle retained his place in Jose Mourinho’s XI. Chelsea stuck with their now familiar 4231, and with the buccaneering runs of both Martin Olsson and Russell Martin, it is easy to see why Mourinho was keen to instil the need to track back in his wingers; therefore, selecting Schurrle who is defensively secure and Juan Mata, with his new-found willingness to defend, made sense.
Norwich made one change, captain Sebastian Bassong returning in order to partner Michael Turner in the heart of the Norwich defence. Jonny Howson’s first half strike against Stoke in Norwich’s last PL victory retained him his place in Chris Hughton’s starting XI.
Norwich line and defending in blocks
A noticeable feature of Norwich’s defending, particularly in the first half, was the high line the Canaries were playing, in order to box Chelsea in and hopefully win the ball back through this pressure. However, this high line was quickly found out by starting Chelsea striker Demba Ba, who nipped in behind the Norwich back line several times to win headers against Bassong and Turner. Indeed, Chelsea’s first goal came courtesy of a knock-down from the Senegalese front man. As we can see from this still, Norwich’s line is a high one, and the situation in which Norwich find themselves is that every single Chelsea player is both in line with their defender, and looks the favourite to win the ball and create goalscoring opportunities, which is exactly what Chelsea did courtesy of a Demba Ba knock-down. The decision to play a high line is an even stranger one considering the pace, or lack thereof, in the Norwich defence, with the exception of Martin Olsson – Russel Martin, Sebastian Bassong and Michael Turner are all centre halves by trade, so the decision was quickly altered, and Norwich’s line became deeper.
Another point of note with regard to the Norwich defending is what they did without the ball. Immediately after the ball was lost within Chelsea’s half, all Norwich players, bar Ricky Van Wolfswinkel tracked back to form a 4141 with Tettey sitting in front of the back four. Not only did this allow Pilkington and Snodgrass to protect their full backs from marauding Chelsea full backs, but it encouraged David Luiz (who rarely needs encouragement) and John Terry to play long balls up to Demba Ba who, now that Norwich were playing deeper, won fewer aerial duels. This also allowed Norwich’s midfield due of Fer and Howson to not only create a physical presence to deter Chelsea’s runs, but also allowed them to counter attack if and when Norwich won the ball back, with the aid of the only man forward, Ricky Van Wolfswinkel. As we can see from the picture, Norwich’s duo of Fer and Howson were accompanied by Pilkington on this occasion, broke to hit Chelsea on the counter attack, in a fairly even situation. Also note the deeper Norwich line, albeit only a few yards.
Norwich’s counter attacks
Just after the previous picture, Fer wins the ball after a lacklustre dribble by Ramires to launch a counter attack, now, as we can see from this picture, Fer has multiple options because of Norwich’s counter attacking strategy, he can play in Van Wolfswinkel, attempt to play in his midfield parter Howson, who counter attacked alongside him, or take on the shot himself; Fer chooses to play in Van Wolfswinkel and the ball is cut out by Ashley Cole. However, Norwich got into these good positions several times and if they had been more incisive with their passing, could have scored a few more goals on the counter attack. Also, out of shot are Pilkington and Snodgrass, who make their way into the picture seconds later, providing Fer with yet more options to choose from. This is how Norwich set up their game, and for 80 minutes, it worked quite well, aside from the Demba Ba goal. Indeed, the only reason why Norwich conceded was due to their attacking endeavours which allowed Chelsea the opportunity to get men forward and into space, due to Norwich’s lack of players in their back line because of having sent so many men forward.
In the end, however, the scoreline reflected Chelsea’s superior play and the Blues gained the three points through both inspired substitutions and exploiting Norwich’s lack of defenders when they pushed forward. However, against lesser opponents I can see Norwich’s strategy working very well, as it has done this season. So what does the season hold for Norwich? Can they pull themselves out of the relegation places or are they bound for the Championship? Did Chelsea’s play warrant victory in your eyes and are they bound for the title?