Alex Neil must face up to more tactical conundrums at Norwich City

Wes Hoolahan of Norwich in action during the Barclays Premier League match at Stamford Bridge. Pictu

Wes Hoolahan of Norwich in action during the Barclays Premier League match at Stamford Bridge. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

As unlikely as it seems, Norwich and Chelsea's records were almost identical going into Saturday's match.

Kurt Zouma of Chelsea and Wes Hoolahan of Norwich in action. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images

Kurt Zouma of Chelsea and Wes Hoolahan of Norwich in action. Picture by Paul Chesterton/Focus Images - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

A solitary point separated City from the Premier League champions who had also won three, scored 16 and conceded 23.

Norwich were also the last team to keep a clean sheet in a league game at Stamford Bridge, and if it wasn't for a momentary lapse of concentration, that same feat would have repeated 18 months on.

Chelsea's spectacularly disastrous start to their Premier League title defence should have been all the confidence boost Norwich needed. There was a nervousness apparent in the home side's play from the first minute, not helped by a subdued atmosphere, almost quiet enough to hear Jose Mourinho's shouts of injustice at every decision that didn't go his team's way.

It was a difficult performance to assess from City. They certainly didn't play badly, but a 1-0 defeat didn't feel unjust either despite a very average display from Chelsea. When you switch off in the manner that Norwich did for the decisive goal it seems futile to suggest we deserved more.


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Alex Neil again set up to frustrate, a tactic that worked so effectively against Swansea at home and with Chelsea's international stars to contend with, no matter how often they may have failed to deliver this season, it was merited.

The difficulty for Norwich players however was that when they did manage to break forward and find themselves in good positions, they lacked the belief and quality to make them count.

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Both sides had penalty shouts turned down and John Ruddy was forced to make a couple of good saves, as City continued to look far more defensively assured with a back four of Martin Olsson, Ryan Bennett, Seb Bassong and Andre Wisdom.

For an hour Norwich defended resolutely and in numbers, until a simple ball over the top from a quickly taken free-kick in the centre circle undid us completely.

In my last column I praised a few smart decisions that helped us see the game out against Swansea. This time we were made to pay for our collective naivety as first Bassong cushioned the ball back to Fabregas giving him the opportunity to take the free-kick quickly, then our midfielders failed to step in preventing him from doing so.

Our defenders then joined in the party by failing to switch on to the long ball to Costa who held his line perfectly to stay onside and slot home past Ruddy. Neil said post-match that it was hard for Norwich to become the aggressors when chasing the game as the plan had been to sit back.

No one can fault him for trying to change things, but even the introduction of Cameron Jerome and Wes Hoolahan with 20 minutes remaining couldn't prevent City's creativity from dwindling as Chelsea were more than happy to protect their narrow lead.

With a trip to Vicarage Road the next away fixture, it will be intriguing to see how Neil sets out his team. Watford's main strength has been an excellent defensive record, especially at home, where they have also struggled to score. Only Aston Villa have scored fewer home goals all season.

Neil will have selection issues to consider against Arsenal first. Youssouf Mulumbu's distribution at Stamford Bridge could have been better but watching him break up play against a strong Chelsea midfield, and adding much needed pace in a defensive role, was one of the positives from Saturday's defeat. With the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla to contend with perhaps Alex Tettey, if fit again, will partner him.

Norwich's two worst performances of the season have been in front of the Sky cameras. Let's hope it's a case of third time lucky on Sunday.

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