Chelsea produced a dramatic late salvo to stave off Norwich City’s fight back and claim a 3-1 at Carrow Road. After Oscar’s early goal for the visitors, Norwich appeared to have the momentum when Anthony Pilkington equalized midway through the second half. But Jose Mourinho’s decision to bring on Eden Hazard and Willian had the most spectacular results in the final five minutes when first the Belgium finished from a quick breakaway before the recent signing from Anzhi Makhachkala capped his first Premier League appearance with a stunning curling effort.
The finish was tough on a Norwich side that had been rewarded for finally showing some attacking impetus in the second half. Chelsea displayed little urgency to build on their early lead and Mourinho’s feeling may predominantly be one of relief that they emerged with three points courtesy of poor defending and goalkeeping on Hazard’s goal and some magic from Willian. Still, it was the kind of win that is necessary for champions to produce, something which Mourinho will hope to be once more come the season’s end. Having recovered from a difficult start to the season, Chelsea are now up to third. Norwich, meanwhile, lie just above the relegation zone, although Chris Hughton will take positives from a good second-half showing.
Chelsea had begun the match under clear instructions to try and hit Demba Ba with direct balls over the Norwich defense. It was a tactic that paid dividends in just the fourth minute.
On this occasion it was Frank Lampard who looked for Ba with a long pass over the top from his own half that the striker controlled well first time down the left side of the area. His second touch, though, was with his outstretched arm and, while not intentional, Norwich have every reason to feel like the move should have been halted there. Instead, Ba was allowed to go on and lay the ball back for the on-rushing Oscar just inside the box, who struck an intelligent low shot with the outside of his right foot that bent away from John Ruddy and into the corner of the net.
Now especially fearful of being caught via the direct route in behind their defense, Norwich dropped deeper. It largely negated Chelsea’s tactic, but it still could have brought a second goal. Ruddy, under the spotlight as England looks for potential alternatives to Joe Hart, was picking a bad time to have an off day. His fumble on the edge of the box, allowed Ba to turn and hit a shot that the Norwich keeper was grateful it struck a covering defender. Ba, heavily involved throughout the half, also went close with a low effort across goal from a tight angle that was just kept out by Ruddy.
Norwich’s concern about their opponents meant that they posed little threat themselves going forward. A central midfield three of the extremely deep-sitting Alexander Tettey, Jonathan Howson and the slightly more dynamic Leroy Fer provided record signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel with little support. The only time Cech had been tested in the first half was on one of the few occasions where Howson did get forward and his effort from a near-post cross was turned wide.
Yet, while Norwich didn’t look like getting back into the match, Chelsea had also taken a very passive attitude toward trying to kill off the contest. And it was a lethargy that they would pay for in the second half.
Hughton’s men had slightly more gusto about their play after the interval and for the first time put the Chelsea backline under some pressure. The visitors were given the benefit of the doubt by a refereeing decision for the second time in the match when Ramires somewhat clumsily bundled down Pilkingotn from behind in the box.
As the second 45 minutes reached its halfway point, it was stick or twist time for Hughton. He elected to keep faith with his starting 11 rather than change things up. His decision would be vindicated. Martin Olsson launched a high cross to the back post where Van Wolfswinkel showcased his aerial pedigree to get above Terry and head it back across goal where David Luiz failed to cut it out and the ball rather hit Pilkingotn than he it, but the header still had enough to beat Cech from close range.
The goal roused the crowd inside Carrow Road and dramatically enlivened what had previously been a sleepy affair in the Norfolk sun. Jose Mourinho responded by putting Hazard on for the apparently injured Ashley Cole to go to three at the back, while Samuel Eto’o and Willian were also introduced. They were changes that would reap spectacular rewards.
From defending their own corner, Chelsea soared upfield in a matter of seconds on a typical Mourinho counter-attack. Hazard won a defensive header on the edge of his box and continued his run to try and meet a fine early cross-field ball for Oscar. Yet it was a pass that should have been cut out by Tettey, who instead just helped it into the path of Hazard and a second mistake came as Ruddy allowed the substitute’s shot to squirm under his body and just creep over the line.
There was very little that could have nee done about Chelsea’s third goal just a minute later. Eto’o was closed out on the edge of the box and his former Anzhi teammate came in and unleashed an unstoppable curling effort with his left foot into the top corner to announce himself on the Premier League stage and secure Chelsea a hard-fought win.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.