Icy blast brings an ill wind for Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The raw wind swirling around Stamford Bridge proved less uncomfortable than the cold reality of Norwich City's place in the Premier League pecking order.
Leicester City and to a lesser extent Crystal Palace have challenged conventional wisdom, but Jose Mourinho's men demonstrated against the Canaries they will not be languishing at the wrong end for much longer.
John Ruddy's excellence allied to Diego Costa's profligacy spared Norwich a heavier loss and not even a contentious penalty call - when Robbie Brady was pushed by the clumsy Willian - could mask the gulf in class.
That is the reality. It is not an acceptance of Norwich's fate; or defeatism, or even deference to the superior talent at Chelsea's disposal. Mourinho could substitute the best player in the land last season, the excellent Hazard, to signal the shift from panache to pragmatism for the final moments and replace him with two Brazilian internationals and one of the Spanish variety for good measure.
Those who lead and those who follow at Carrow Road know the Premier League is not a fair fight. At times the odds are seemingly insurmountable, but there is no other stage the Canaries would rather strut their stuff. All the angst, the turmoil and the grind of extricating themselves from the Championship last season was for trips to places like Stamford Bridge.
Neil is not a man who deals in backward steps. The touchline interaction with Mourinho was fascinating to observe. The Portuguese appeared to take exception to his rival's constant demands for answers from the fourth official regarding any number of contentious episodes. At one point, the Premier League's youngest manager stood merely a pace or two away and smiled at Mourinho, who scowled in response.
The Scot's dissection of the key penalty incident was measured in tone and honest in delivery. There was none of the tactical berating a self-indulgent Mourinho has taken to new levels this season, culminating in his stadium ban for Chelsea's previous Premier League outing at Stoke City.
- 1 Norfolk deli owner suffers severe spinal injuries in Ibiza diving accident
- 2 Revealed: Where dangerous parasite has been reported in Norfolk
- 3 Driver died in crash with tractor after misjudging corner on rural road
- 4 Possible foot and mouth disease case investigated at pig farm
- 5 Train evacuated after hitting horse on Norwich to Diss line
- 6 Highways bosses reveal when A47 dualling work will start
- 7 All-you-can-eat Chinese buffet at Riverside closes
- 8 Bid to build five industrial units in Norfolk village
- 9 Care home which has sat empty for four years to be revived by new owners
- 10 Traffic delays after car plunges into underpass in Yarmouth
Norwich, even to the impartial observer, have had slim measures from officialdom going right back to that vibrant opening day outing against Palace when Cameron Jerome's acrobatic finish was deemed to constitute dangerous play.
For Neil to raise the issue more prominently than he had so far is not an act of desperation, or even an acceptance events are spiralling out of his control. It simply brought into sharp focus the scale of the chasm Norwich try and bridge when they compete against such high profile opponents.
Neil made it clear the outcome did not hinge on City's spot-kick snub, but a judicious break or two may have avoided another episode when, for all Chelsea's midfield artistry, it was a lapse in concentration from the Canaries that sealed their fate.
Cesc Fabregas was permitted to take a quick free-kick after Hazard was clipped just inside the Norwich half. The snarling Costa offered a willing option between Andre Wisdom and Ryan Bennett before cutting back inside the central defender to curl a right-footed finish around Ruddy. It was a simple incursion, ruthlessly executed.
Norwich again opted to willingly concede both territory and crucially possession in the same manner as their previous away day at Manchester City and the vital home win over Swansea. The difference here was the Blues had top class technicians in Hazard, Pedro and Willian to weave mesmerising patterns, to ease defenders and midfielders out of position to create space in wide areas to service Costa.
The hosts' suffocating pressing from Fabregas and Nemanja Matic tilted this contest after encouraging early signs Nathan Redmond's re-deployment may offer grounds for optimism. Norwich's attacking threat became increasingly sporadic until a frenetic final few minutes when Mourinho's customary caution ceded territory for Norwich to exploit.
Bar Seb Bassong's far post first-half strike, blocked by John Terry, and Brady's swerving shot tipped around his post by Asmir Begovic this was largely a struggle between Chelsea dominance and Norwich stubbornness. There was a growing air of inevitability to the outcome long before Costa ended his personal goal drought. For those outside the boundaries of Norfolk, Neil's side had fulfilled their brief as a sacrificial offering for Mourinho and his high rollers. City will face the same exacting questions this weekend against Arsenal. The challenge, as every week at this rarefied level, remains to find a cohesive, resilient, effective response.