Chelsea took on Norwich at Carrow Road in the lunchtime Saturday match this week.
The win over Sunderland last weekend was only the second 1-0 of the season for the Blues. The other came in November at Blackburn, with Frank Lampard the goalscorer in both matches. In fact, Frank’s last four league goals have made the difference between one point and three.
Chelsea are unbeaten in five away Barclays Premier League games since our defeat at QPR on 23 October.
Most Chelsea fans would have predicted a win before the game although with their somewhat sporadic matches of late a big win was not on the cards.
The teams lined up as follows:
Ruddy, Martin, Whitbread, Ayala, Naughton, Fox, Johnson, Pilkington, Surman, Morison, Holt.
Subs: Steer, Bennett, Jackson, Hoolahan, Crofts, Drury, Wilbraham.
Cech, Bosingwa, Luiz, JT, Cole, Lampard, Ramires, Meireles, Sturridge, Torres, Mata.
Subs: Turnbull, Ivanovic, Bertrand, Essien, Malouda, Romeu, Lukaku.
New signing Cahill was not a part of Chelsea’s 18-man squad, and so Luiz and Bosingwa formed the right side of the defence, the only change from last weekend’s starting 11 at Sunderland being Sturridge’s return in place of Romeu, with Ramires dropping back from the right wing into central midfield.
Meireles would play the holding role in midfield with Lampard, scorer of the winner in each of our last three games, completing the trio. Torres was the central striker.
Other good news was the return from injury of Ivanovic to the subs’ bench, alongside Essien who completed his first minutes of the season last weekend.
Norwich recalled captain Holt in place of Simeon Jackson, the striker joining Steve Morison up front with David Fox replacing Wes Hoolahan to give steel to the midfield.
Chelsea enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening exchanges but it was the hosts who forced the first chance, a swift counter seeing Pilkington’s pullback beaten away by Cech. It had been Meireles who had surrendered the ball for that attack, and the same player erred once more five minutes later to allow Morison and Holt to combine with effect.
The Canaries prepared to go direct when they won possession if it meant carving out opportunities for their bulky front two. Pilkington almost opened the scoring after 16 minutes, his curler on target before John Terry’s headed interception.
Morison fired into the side netting after another get it deep and launch it long break. Mata and Torres looked dangerous, and the latter forced another corner when footwork and a goal-bound tap-in produced a fingertip save from Canaries goalkeeper Ruddy.
A calf injury robbed Chelsea of Lampard 10 minutes before half-time.
Norwich came close to taking the lead, Johnson’s deflected shot looking to have left Cech stranded, only for the Blues keeper to readjust his balance and fall on the ball just in time.
Chelsea’s best chance of the half came when Malouda dragged the ball before slipping in Mata, whose shot was slowed slightly by a Norwich defender allowing Ruddy the necessary time to save. Mata was certainly not having a good game and became increasingly frustrated throughout the first half.
With the second half underway, it seemed to follow the same pattern of the first, both sides having a real go at each other, but neither finding the required quality to break through. Torres lashed over from the edge of the box and then toed wide when he tried to pick out the bottom corner from eight yards. Yet again it wasn’t the Spaniards day as several changes lacked the finishing touch.
Ruddy saved from Mata on the hour as he started to become more involved to become Chelsea’s primary play-maker.
Norwich were still on the hunt, relying ever more heavily on the aerial route.
Into the final 20 minutes, the score remained 0-0 with the frustration firmly on the Chelsea fans faces. The away support for Chelsea has today been magnificent and they deserved to have a goal to make the journey to East Anglia well worth the early morning.
For the third time in the afternoon Malouda teed up Mata, only for a combination of Ruddy and the post to prevent a goal.
By now, into the final 10, Norwich seemed content to sit deeper and earn a point. A late smattering of half-chances caused plenty of trouble inside the Canaries box, but the killer goal could not be found.
The winning streak that started 2012 is over after a well-contested but ultimately disappointing trip to Carrow Road.
Despite creating the better opportunities over the 90 minutes, the Blues could not beat a dogged and organised Norwich side that earned its first clean sheet of the season. Overall, Norwich played well to keep the Chelsea defense active throughout the 90 minutes whilst creating some good chances to put themselves ahead.
Chelsea’s best player of the match was Luiz and with the threat for his shirt coming from Chelsea’s latest signing, Cahill, it seems the young Brazilian is going to fight for his place in the starting XI.
Chelsea’s next game is away at Loftus Road against QPR on Saturday where they will be hoping to proceed to the next stage of the FA Cup. The Blue’s next EPL game is away to Swansea on Tuesday 31st January where they will be hoping to get back to their winning ways.
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