Chelsea snap three-match skid with narrow win over Norwich
It took over an hour for the goal to arrive, but a bright Chelsea performance, at times reminiscent of the team which dominated the Barclay's Premier League a year ago, paid off in a welcome 1-0 triumph over Norwich City Saturday at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues snapped an unprecedented Roman Abramovich-era three match league losing streak when Diego Costa's goal ended Norwich's resistance in a contest that was dominated in every way by Jose Mourinho's Blues. Under pressure because of their dreadful lack of form in a title-defense season, Chelsea finally looked a relaxed, confident side against visitors who actually had started the day a place above them in the league table.
"It's a bit of a relief," said Mourinho, after Costa's first goal since the win over Aston Villa ended a three-match losing streak. "The pressure was there -- I was feeling, the players were feeling too. We coped well with that and we got a result which obviously we needed very, very much. Fourth position for me is not an impossible mission. If you ask me the title I would say impossible mission.
"Maybe Tom Cruise can do it (but) it's complicated because you have to recover points from four candidates. But to grab one of the (teams) that go up and will also have a little bit of a collapse... the fourth position is a difficult position but a possible target."
Chelsea moved 15th in the table with the win, but they remained 14 points off the top of the table and probably face a struggle to finish in the top four. That's the price of a first three months when performances have been flawed and results missing, but this Saturday afternoon was filled with positives.
Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard, in particular, were always eager to get involved, probing with their passes and running at defenders. Kenedy, the young Brazilian, was given a start at left back and immediately influenced things with his attacking runs and Willian was his usual active, unpredictable self. Costa, short of goals this season, also seemed eager to chase opportunities and it was no surprise when he eventually opened the account.
Mourinho will undoubtedly take heart from all that ahead of Tuesday's UEFA Champions League journey to Israel to play Maccabi Tel Aviv, but he will still be concerned by the fact that all of Chelsea's possession and creativity did not produce the bag full of goals it should have.
Some of that was down to tenacious Norwich defending -- the visitors chased everything -- but there continues to be a lack of belief in the final move at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea, active from the start, moving quickly and full of ideas, too often ran out of invention in the final third.
Norwich City had a first half penalty shout when Robbie Brady went down under some pressure from behind by Willian but referee Craig Pawson must have felt the attacker fell too easily and had no interest in an award. Otherwise, they spent much of the match defending in depth, living on the edge at times. Asmir Begovic was largely a spectator in the Blues' goal.
The first half was largely Chelsea's until the final five minutes when both teams had chances. Sebastien Bassong might have put Norwich ahead in the 42nd minute but John Terry produced a vital block, then keeper John Ruddy was excellent at the other end when Costa had the Blues' best look of the half after Kenedy's set-up pass.
The scenario did not change after the break, Chelsea continuing to hammer away, Norwich left to defend a range of attacks as the Blues used the width of the field effectively.
The breakthrough finally came just after the hour when Costa timed a perfect run to Cesc's smartly-taken free kick on the halfway line. The striker collected with room to hold possession in the box, then stepped to his right to create a better angle before easily slotting the ball beyond Ruddy's reach.
Mourinho felt Chelsea should have been well clear in the closing stages but was relieved they claimed just a third clean sheet of the season.
"We should score three, four, five goals, and we didn't," he said. "You get a little bit disappointed with the way things go. After the goal you had (Kurt) Zouma hit the post. If he doesn't touch the ball it's a goal. Then in the last four minutes you are there and you think maybe we score in our own goal in the last minute."