Chelsea 1 Norwich City 0
16:59 21 November 2015
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Battling Norwich City slipped to a 1-0 Premier League defeat at champions Chelsea.
The Canaries repelled Jose Mourinho’s side for long spells at Stamford Bridge but paid a heavy price for one lapse in concentration on a quickly-taken free kick when Diego Costa checked back inside Ryan Bennett to control Cesc Fabregas’ pass and curl a low finish past John Ruddy for a 64th minute match winner.
Ruddy had brilliantly denied Costa prior to the interval before Kurt Zouma volleyed against the bar in the aftermath of Costa’s finish. Norwich’s best chance saw Robbie Brady’s long shot pushed around the post by Asmir Begovic.
Alex Neil made three changes to the starting line up that beat Swansea City 1-0 prior to the international break. Youssouf Mulumbu came in for Alex Tettey who returned from Euro 2016 play-off duty with a thigh injury. Nathan Redmond was restored to the line-up after his precautionary absence against the Swans with a thigh concern in place of Wes Hoolahan. Dieumerci Mbokani was preferred to Cameron Jerome with Kyle Lafferty included on the substitutes’ bench.
Gary O’Neil retained the captaincy along with his place in central midfield with Russell Martin a notable absentee from the matchday squad after serving his one-match ban against the Swans. Neil confirmed after the defeat the Scottish international had been in the squad but was left out for ‘personal reasons’.
Jose Mourinho restored Branislav Ivanovic to his line up after missing the past seven games with a hamstring injury. Brazilian teenager Kenedy was deployed in an unfamiliar left-back role. Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro formed a creative-looking three behind Diego Costa.
Redmond started as the chief link to Mbokani flanked by Brady and Jonny Howson. Mourinho opted to shift Hazard centrally.
Mbokani was beaten in the air by Kurt Zouma from Redmond’s sixth minute corner with City looking to profit from what has become an increasingly productive supply route.
Redmond then led the counter before feeding Brady who earned a second corner from Ivanovic which Pedro hacked clear at the far post in a confident start from the Canaries.
Hazard underlined his threat when he escaped the attentions of Andre Wisdom to pick out Costa who screwed his first time shot over with Seb Bassong and Ryan Bennett in close attendance.
Chelsea’s high tempo response threatened to pin Norwich inside their own third for a prolonged period before John Terry’s near post flick relieved the pressure when it brushed the side netting.
Redmond’s pace was proving a source of menace for the hosts and Begovic had to parried his angled shot in the 14th minute before play switched to the opposite end when Willian lined up Martin Olsson but Ruddy smothered his low strike.
Redmond squared up Terry before the ball was shovelled to Brady who cut it back, but Mbokani’s stabbed left-footed shot from just inside the Chelsea area cleared the bar. Spanish international Pedro’s 20-yard effort swerved wide as the open feel to the proceedings showed no signs of abating.
Chelsea should have gone in front in the 26th minute when Pedro, Cesc Fabregas and Hazard craved out space down the Norwich right before picking out the unmarked Costa who sidefooted over from 10 yards.
Bennett’s clearing header then denied Willian a chance to test Ruddy as Chelsea moved through the gears.
Willian earned a free kick after Olsson was adjudged to have held him back but Bassong’s positioning was sound only for Chelsea to swiftly re-cycle and test Ruddy again who smothered Fabregas’ shot.
Brady tumbled under the attentions of Willian a yard inside the Chelsea box but referee Pawson waved away appeals led by Neil as Chelsea counterpart Mourinho waved an accusing finger in the direction of the fourth official.
The impressive Hazard then drifted away from both Mulumbu and Olsson but there was no takers in blue for his cross rolled along the Norwich six yard box.
City broke out in the closing stages of the opening period and from a Redmond corner Bassong looked set to slot until Terry’s last-ditch far post block.
Chelsea surged down the other end where Costa was again left unmarked 10 yards out, but Ruddy brilliantly denied him with his right foot to divert a goalbound shot around the post.
Captain O’Neil was cautioned two minutes after the restart when Mulumbu was initially over-run in central midfield but Ruddy dropped to his knees to gather Willian’s free kick.
Zouma then pulled off his marked but volleyed Hazard’s corner over from eight yards with the hosts starting the second period in the same attacking vein.
Ruddy dived on Fabregas’ 25-yard effort that skipped off the turf in front of the City number one with Norwich unable to get any service to the increasingly isolated Mbokani.
Chelsea’ weight of possession and territory finally told in the 64th minute when Fabregas’ quick free kick, after Hazard was upended, picked out Costa who dived back inside Bennett to curl beyond Ruddy from 12 yards.
Zouma’s volley from Willian’s free kick thudded against the bar with City rocking but the visitors bravely carried the fight again with Brady’s swerving strike parried by Begovic at full stretch.
Neil responded with a triple change in the 72nd minute with Jerome, Hoolahan and Graham Dorrans replacing Mbokani, Howson and Mulumbu.
Chelsea continued to dictate with youngster Kenedy roaming forward on the overlap but Bennett clearing his lines at Norwich’s near post before Pedro’s looping strike from the corner dropped two yards wide.
Ruddy then denied Matic after the bustling midfielder was allowed to rumble into the Norwich area with the pragmatic hosts now clearly happy to run down the remaining minutes for a much-needed win.
• Chelsea: Begovic, Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Kenedy, Matic, Fabregas, Pedro (Oscar 83), Willian (Ramires 86), Hazard (Azpilicueta 90), Diego Costa. Subs (not used): Blackman, Cahill, Traore, Remy.
• Booking: Willian (ungentlemanly conduct, 35)
• Goal: Costa (64)
• Norwich City: Ruddy; Wisdom, Bennett, Bassong, Olsson, Howson (Hoolahan 72), Mulumbu (Dorrans 72), O’Neil, Brady, Redmond, Mbokani (Jerome 72). Subs (not used): Rudd, Whittaker, Lafferty, Odjidja.
• Bookings: Mulumbu (foul on Fabregas, 31); O’Neil (foul on Hazard, 47); Bassong (foul on Hazard, 61); Olsson (foul on Costa, 69)
• Added on time: 1 minute / 4 minutes
• Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorks)
• Attendance: 41,582