Solid Chelsea performance secures victory
Norwich 0 Chelsea 1:This win should please Chelsea supporters almost as much as the drubbing of a callow Aston Villa side a few days earlier.
For interim manager Rafael Benitez, the manner in which his players contained a determined Norwich, while carrying the greater threat, was a continued demonstration of their improvement in recent matches.
“It is important to see the team working hard and defending well,” said Benitez, after watching the outstanding Juan Mata win the game with a 20-yard shot seven minutes before half-time. “Against Villa we were playing very offensive football. Today we could manage and could control . . . we were doing our job as a team.”
That the team did not include Frank Lampard, left out for Mikel John Obi, will probably be seized upon by those who believe the England midfielder may leave Stamford Bridge next month. On the other hand, Lampard came on for the final 15 minutes or so and while Benitez declined to be drawn on the midfielder’s immediate future, or indeed that of Ashley Cole – like Lampard out of contract at the end of the season – he did say that Mikel, along with the impressive Victor Moses, will be heading off to the Africa Cup of Nations before long.
“From my position [Lampard’s situation] is very easy – it is a private conversation between Frank and the club,” said Benitez. “That’s it. He is a player who is under contract, he is a good player and I will try to bring the best from him. That is my position.”
He was more forthcoming when it came to Mata, whose goal was his 13th in the Premier League and 15th of the season. The midfielder, said Benitez, is one of those players who can “make a difference”.
“Mata is a player who is very dangerous getting into the box and also outside the box, he is clever and has clever movements. He can play deeper, can go to the right into spaces, and that is hard for the midfielders and the defenders to manage.”
Hard though Norwich worked to contain Mata, it was disingenuous of Hughton to maintain they had done so successfully for the most part. Playing behind Fernando Torres, Mata saw an awful lot of the ball and was influential throughout, working particularly well in tandem with David Luiz, once again pushed into midfield.
Shooting was woeful
While not as effective as he had been against Villa, the Brazilian revelled in the freedom afforded him. As is sometimes the case, the discipline that saw David Luiz maintain station in a holding role alongside Mikel in the first half began to slip as the second half went on, however, and his shooting was woeful. But there were times when his passing threatened to peel the Norwich defence apart.
The Chelsea defence looks infinitely more solid without him in it. Grant Holt got little change out of Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill and the nearest Norwich came to pinching an equaliser came late, when Sebastien Bassong’s header bounced over the bar.
Hughton was disappointed Mata had been allowed to get his shot away, but acknowledged the quality of the goal. “You had to admire it, and that’s why clubs like Chelsea pay the amounts they do for the offensive players they have. If there’s any difference [in Chelsea] to last season, it’s the quality of those players, they’re a real quality outfit,” said the City manager, whose side have now lost their last two games after a run of 10 without defeat.
While Lampard is entitled to open talks with clubs abroad in January, it is almost certain he will not be going anywhere until the end of the season. The Norwich fans gave him some ritual abuse while he warmed up on the touchline, followed up with a chant of “sign him up”.
Asked if he could continue to improve his team, Benitez insisted there was more to come. “It’s a question of keep coaching . . . I was talking with one or two senior players and the attitude was really positive . . . that is the way to move forward.” And by buying? “There are a lot of ways to improve the team.”