Chelsea entered this game unbeaten in this year's Premier League and off the back of two very different but nonetheless equally impressive wins against Arsenal and FC Nordjsælland. Chris Hughton has had a rather troubled start to his Norwich career, failing to pick up a win in any of his six Premier League games.
- Chelsea's 4231 sets up against Norwich's rough 442. Lampard comes in for Ramires as only change for Blues from their last Premier League match.
The line ups here are largely as expected, the only change for Chelsea compared to the side who played Arsenal is that Lampard comes in for Ramires. Ramires' off the ball energy and box to box role was deployed against Arsenal with great effect and was part of the reason Santi Cazorla was so quiet in last weekends games - however, in a game where Chelsea will expect to dominate, Lampard's superior on ball ability earned him the place, as he will be able to operate as part of a double pivot to support the attacking four more effectively. Norwich started as expected, with Wes Hoolahan playing just off of Grant Holt in a free role and will be the hub of Norwich's attacking threat.
Opening blows: Norwich unsettle Chelsea by exploiting space out wide.
Cheslea lined up as they have done for much of this season with a front three of Mata, Oscar and Hazard behind Fernando Torres. This narrow axis is integral to the play Chelsea play and in an attacking sense and has proven extremely effective with Mata and Hazard now leading the assist tables on four assists each this season and ultimately, in this game, Norwich tried to combat this with a condensed defence and midfield of their own and failed. However, it does bring up an interesting point in exploiting Chelsea's main area of weakness. Because they are so narrow, any width is provided through the full backs, namely Cole and Ivanovic.
- Is anybody there? As the ball travels across to Ivanovic, Chelsea's narrow attack means he has no option within 20 yards of him.
This is all well and good, as Ivanovic can deliver a cross or play back in field to a midfield option. The trouble comes from when Chelsea lose the ball. The Mata/Oscar/Hazard trio is deadly, but also very attack minded and unwilling to cover their fullbacks when they commit to an attack. Here we can see how far up the pitch he ventures and how Wes Hoolahan (Number 14) can easily exploit the space behind the midfield, particularly in those wide positions. This is emphasised by Norwich's opening goal. The ball was delivered from a wide position where Ivanovic gave the attacker too much time and on the other side, Ashley Cole had to cover two Norwich attackers, one of which then laid the ball off to a charging Grant Holt. Though Norwich were unable to sustain the counter attacks throughout the game, stronger teams will be able to exploit this weakness in the Chelsea game, as shown by the cross map from last week's game against Arsenal.
- Arsenal exploited the space out wide more consistently than Norwich were able to do against Chelsea
Ultimately, quality prevailed.
As Torres was able to nod home an equaliser due to a lack of concentration from Norwich's left hand side, Chelsea were able to grow into the game and dominate. The defensive double pivot of Mikel and Lampard were effectively support the attacking midfield trio as they had little to do defensively. The football at some times and particularly throughout the second half was outstanding. Norwich set up in two banks of four and squeezed the game centrally. Chelsea would have easily been able to stretch the game out wide, but with the inverted playmakers chose to stick to their philosophy of short sharp passing, often cutting through the Norwich back line. Credit has to go to Norwich stopper John Ruddy in the second half. Though the England international was caught diving backwards on Ivanovic's late strike, the keeper saved the Canaries a number of times by dominating aerially and topped off a diligent performance but coming off his line to sneak the ball away from Chelsea's runners from deep.
- Fluidity. Here Eden Hazard typifies Chelsea's style. Though primarily deployed out wide, the Belgian comes across the pitch to play all over the final third. The Blues evidently prefer playing their way into goal scoring positions rather than taking shots from outside the area, further highlighting their tight knit style.
A spark in the darkness for Norwich in Wes Hoolahan.
It is safe to say that in almost every sense, Norwich were out classed today. In footballing ability Chelsea were unparalleled and the Canaries were unable to maintain the necessary concentration to survive the onslaught at Stamford Bridge. However, on the few occasions when Norwich were able to maintain possession higher up the field, Wes Hoolahan proved once more why most of Norwich's attacking play goes through him. Despite complementing the Chelsea double pivot earlier for their attacking contribution, the same system which kept Santi Cazorla quiet last week was unable to do the same with the diminutive Irishman. He was able to successfully exploit the spaces between the Chelsea midfield and defence and also drift into the spaces left by the full backs throughout the game. Any joy for Norwich inevitably came through him and he managed to link up with Grant Holt quite well. If Norwich were successfully able to support their attacking pair more often they would have provided much more of a threat, but the fact that they were so isolated is perhaps credit to Chelsea's sustained pressure throughout the match.
- Hoolahan in more successful games. Able to drift across the pitch in his free role, he represents Norwich's biggest threat going forward.
Ultimately the game had reached its conclusion at half time. Norwich made a concerted effort to capitalise on swift counter attacks but it rarely achieved much. Chelsea persisted with their typical play style of this season and were quickly rewarded with a dominating attacking display. Though the Blues remain unbeaten this season and top of the table, to say they are unbeatable is far from the truth; as impressive as the Chelsea side are going forward they are equally susceptible in defence, and it won't be long until we see someone truly exploit this.