September 23 2014 Latest news:
Monday, October 8, 2012
It would take a heart of stone not to feel some sympathy for John Ruddy as he lay prone on the Stamford Bridge turf.
The Norwich City keeper’s features were obscured by the camera angle as he looked skywards after failing to keep out Branislav Ivanovic’s late strike to seal Chelsea’s emphatic Premier League win.
But as metaphors go for the Canaries’ early season woes, the irony was not lost on anyone present. With each passing game Norwich are getting used to staring up at the rest of the division after another fleetingly positive but ultimately fruitless top flight visit to the home of the champions of Europe.
Chelsea were good. Breathtakingly so at times with their flavoured brand of ‘matador’ football inspired by the diminutive but prodigiously talented trio Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard in the Blues’ midfield.
Fernando Torres looked interested – reincarnated almost – for all those who fondly remembered the forward that routinely terrorised Premier League defences in the red of Liverpool.
Chris Hughton was perfectly correct in his pre-match assertion when he suggested Norwich faced a difficult task irrespective of the current vein of form they took to west London.
Viewed in isolation, City acquitted themselves as well if not better than many feared. Yet filtered through a five-goal pummelling the previous week against Liverpool, the lingering grievance of their no show at Craven Cottage on the opening day and those recurring struggles in between to convert encouraging displays into tangible rewards, there was little illuminating light cast on the 3,000 plus in attendance from Norfolk.
Ruddy will take his share of responsibility for City’s collective failures, but here again he was required to erect a one-man barricade at times to hold back the Blue tide.
A sprawling stop with his legs after advancing from his line to foil Torres deserved better than picking the ball out of his net just a minute later following Ivanovic’s missile. By then the damage had been done; centred around a devastating 16-minute first half spell when Norwich were swept away.
It was as if Grant Holt’s impudent opener had merely annoyed the hosts. Chelsea’s place at the top of the tree combined with a cursory glance down their starting line up tell you Roberto Di Matteo’s failure to turn the Blues into a title-challenging force, both at home and abroad this season, would border on a dereliction of duty.
But this was Chelsea on a hot day. Torres had fortuitously escaped detection from the assistant referee’s offside flag when he gathered Frank Lampard’s sumptuous pass, but a feint back inside gave the retreating Leon Barnett all the encouragement he needed to intervene.
There was no such reprieve when Torres instinctively threw himself at Ivanovic’s lofted cross to power past Ruddy from close range with Barnett fractions of a second slower to anticipate the ensuing danger.
Javier Garrido had been outflanked during the build up. Mata’s back heel found his Serbian ally with too much time and space to deliver on the fringes of the Norwich penalty area. The intent was impressively brutal from Torres; but City will know they should have done much more to disrupt the supply line at source.
This new, vibrant Chelsea pour forward with an attacking philosophy foundered on an inherent contradiction. For all the intricate patterns interwoven through the likes of Lampard and Oscar centrally they unpicked City at will down the flanks. Mata, Oscar and Hazard combined to suck yellow shirts into a congested central area before the ball was again switched wide.
Russell Martin’s initial clearance was returned with interest before Lampard applied the coup de grace. It appeared simplicity personified but like Torres’ earlier surge it was a goal wrapped around anticipation and spatial awareness from one of the finest modern-day English midfielders.
Alex Tettey had spurned a chance minutes earlier to nudge Norwich back in front. The Norwegian added some long overdue drive and impetus from the centre of the park on his full Premier League debut but a swivelling header from Hoolahan’s cross, with the volley seemingly a better option, was a poor return for a man who opened his goal account in such stylish long range fashion against Doncaster recently.
Norwich were on the back foot but there was enough cut and thrust about their work to earn Chelsea’s respect. The Blues’ third was a sad indictment on Norwich’s organisation and collective ability to sense the long range threat. Mata pounced when Hoolahan suffered a rare technical aberration attempting to collect John Terry’s clearing header.
The Spaniard was allowed to advance from deep inside his own half before picking out the overlapping run of Hazard on the opposite wing who was coolness personified to draw the advancing Ruddy and roll into his bottom corner; two players, minimal touches, devastating accuracy.
A seamless move that flowed from one end to the other through a myriad of back-tracking City midfielders and defenders. That Holt was the nearest visiting player within the vicinity of Hazard at the decisive moment will have irked Hughton and his coaching staff.
Holt’s aerial prowess and Bradley Johnson’s inviting deliveries fashioned two chances either side of the interval that City fans have seen the skipper take in a goal-laden career at the club.
Scunthorpe in the opening weeks of the Championship season and the superb leap at Anfield last year spring readily to mind. But that was it.
Chelsea contented themselves with prolonged bouts of keep ball. A footballing truce appeared to break out for the final quarter; punctuated with a series of interventions from the substitutes’ benches and Ivanovic’s late hammer that Ruddy could only parry into his net, before slumping to the pitch in resignation.
Ruddy had again been thrust too readily into the line of fire. But this was no repeat of Liverpool – irrespective of the parallels on the scoresheet.
Chelsea’s artistry and free flowing football had capitalised on fresh traces of defensive hesitancy. There was a distinct absence of the basic individual errors that gift-wrapped Brendan Rodgers a first Premier League win of his reign.
Sebastien Bassong has already proved in his short City career that he can offer badly needed ballast at the back. Tettey looked capable of leaving an imprint at this level in midfield and Holt provided irrefutable proof with his second consecutive goal that a run in the side up front is likely to reap dividends. For Ruddy’s sake, you hope that is the case.