The Tuckster reports on a very hard day’s work at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea…
This was always going to be a tough gig. A lot of people suggested that Chelsea were more than a little lucky to be Champions of Europe, last season. But there is not the slightest hint of luck as to why they are currently top of the league.
After the humbling at home to Liverpool last week, Chris Hughton demanded a reaction and made five changes to try to make sure he got it.
Grant Holt was restored to the lone striker`s berth and it was a welcome recall for Wes Hoolahan playing behind him. Alex Tettey made his league start along with Elliot Bennett in midfield and I was relieved to see that Seb Bassong was fit again.
City started well enough but had an early scare when Torres, who seemed offside found himself one on one with Ruddy as he surged into the area. He dawdled and amazingly didn`t take his shot, allowing Barnett to get back and get a tackle in – it`s just this sort of indecisiveness from Torres that persuaded me to take on a bet with a work colleague that Holt will out score him this season.
City were proving tough for Chelsea to break down in midfield with plenty of bodies making it difficult.
The sight that had me jumping for joy was when on 11 minutes, Hoolahan chipped a cross to the far post. Leon Barnett headed the ball down to Holt who scored with an emphatic drive from the edge of the area – unbelievable!
Sadly though the lead didn`t last five minutes and a Mata cross was met by Torres, who showed good movement to get in between the two City centre backs to head past Ruddy to equalise.
Eight minutes later, after more Chelsea pressure and an attempted bicycle kick from Torres (blocked by Russell Martin) the ball fell kindly to Lampard who smashed the ball on the half volley into the Norwich net – Lampard has made a reputation out of this sort of goal.
The pressure continued and there was a chance for some relief on 30 minutes when City won their first corner of the game.
The ball was cleared and fell towards Hoolahan who was challenged by Mata. Wes was a bit weak and knocked to the floor as Mata picked up the ball in his own half and ran towards the City goal.
He wasn`t challenged but there were plenty of City players to defend.
But they backed off and backed off until Mata reached the edge of the area. The Spaniard simply slid the ball past Howson to Hazard who passed the ball past Ruddy for 3-1.
It is interesting to note that the player closest to Hazard when he scored was Grant Holt. He was in the Chelsea area when the corner was taken and Mata had a big head start on him but Holty raced back to try to help – kinda makes a mockery of his supposed lack of hunger, eh?
At the other end as well, Holt was a menace to John Terry and occasional (and City`s best) threat to the Chelsea goal.
He hustled and battled with Terry and again seemed to un-nerve the ex-England Captain. He was often isolated by the nature of the way the game unfolded but saw one header go narrowly wide in the first half as well as his very well taken goal.
The second half was as you were for both sides and was a bit of an anti climax to the free flowing open first half.
City were continually pressed back and struggled to create much at all. Most of what was good came through Hoolahan and Holt nodded a header just wide of the post.
This, I think was our best chance of the half.
At the other end, Chelsea continually pressurised the Norwich players and the defence creaked and groaned but generally held out.
The blues should`ve had a penalty when Leon Barnett, seemingly unaware of his presence, panicked and brought Hazard down with an obvious leg across the little Belgian but the ref waved him to get up – that`s two you`ve got away with in a week, Leon.
Ruddy was tested several times and made a good save from Oscar as the half wore on.
It looked as though the score may repeat last season`s visit to the Bridge but it became 4-1 on 76 minutes when Ivanovic scored a terrific volley from inside the area when he received the ball from a neat Oscar flick.
Chelsea had further chances and it could easily have been another five conceded or even worse.
It was another bad day at the office for the Norwich defence – the harsh reality is that we just can`t keep conceding goals so easily. We looked better for having Bassong back but the way everyone stood off Mata and allowed Hazard in for the third was criminal.
Torres` equaliser was also a disappointment – you can`t argue with his movement but both centre backs were caught out.
At least, in my opinion, it was a better performance than the Liverpool one.
Bright spots? Holt is back. Did he ever go away? He ran his socks off here and was our biggest threat. He scored a very good goal and as Alex Ferguson once said similarly of Roy Keane – “If we had eleven Grant Holts?”
Wes Hoolahan definitely needs to start – he showed yet again that he is a one off within our squad. Yes, he was too easily dispossessed for the third goal but he was at the heart of all that was good as we played our best stuff.
I understand that Hughton has a problem fitting him into a midfield system but maybe a diamond? It`s served us so well in the past that it may be worth another go.
Chris` concern will be that it is less defensive but hey, we`re not doing great now are we? And it is something that he should think about when we play at home, in particular against “lesser” teams.
I don`t disagree too much with the formation used today though, five in midfield is probably the only way that a team like Norwich City can hope to try and compete with a team like Chelsea.
And that is the bottom line – The movement of Chelsea`s forward players here was tremendous. Mata, Oscar and Hazard are a frightening prospect for any team to face as the blues go forward and they still have Mikel and today, Lampard as a bit of muscle as well.
Roberto di Matteo has created a vibrant, fluid, brilliantly threatening football team.
For a team like Norwich to get a result against them we have to play at 100% and hope they have several players that have an off day – that didn`t happen.
Hughton now has two weeks to prepare before the visit of another Premier League giant in the shape of Arsenal. He will need to pick the lads up – and quickly.
One thing I would say though is that for all their ability, we didn`t hassle the likes of Hazard and Oscar enough. I wish that Tettey, Johnson and Howson had left a foot or two in to let them know they were in a game. If that had happened early on, who knows?
I`m not advocating clogging for the sake of it but as I said, we would have to hope they had an off day and it shouldn`t be made easy for them.
I`m trying to remain positive but it`s not easy without a win to cheer. Next up are Arsenal, another tough gig. I expect that we`ll give it a go, as you`d expect.
It seems to me that we did our best work last season when we went for it a bit more, so come on Chris, let`s go for it eh?