Chelsea recovered from an early deficit to cruise to victory against Norwich and extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table to four points.
Grant Holt had stunned the Stamford Bridge crowd with a fine strike inside the opening 15 minutes, but soon recovered with three impressive strikes of their own before half time from Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard. In a one-sided second period, Branislav Ivanovic added extra gloss to the result with a well-struck finish.
While Chelsea dominated proceedings and were well worth the win, Norwich were able to create several chances of note, particularly in the opening period.
There was a sign of the open nature of the game to come as Chelsea had a golden opportunity to score inside five minutes. Lampard’s simple ball over the top exposed a Norwich’s porous back line to put Torres clear on goal but as has become all too familiar of late, the striker dallied far too long and allowed Leon Barnett to come back and make a challenge.
There was much surprise then when it was the visitors who broke the deadlock after 12 minutes. Wes Hoolahan chipped a fine ball to the back post that was met by a calm header back by Barnett in the path of Holt who stuck a fine half volley into the ground and past Cech from 12 yards.
But having conceded five goals last week, there was little sign that Norwich would be able to hold out despite the return of summer signing Sebastien Bassong. Chelsea’s equalizer came just two minutes after going behind. Oscar back heeled to Branislav Ivanovic in space in the inside right channel and the Serbian picked out Torres in the middle allowing the Spaniard to get ahead of Barnett and power a fine header past John Ruddy in the Norwich goal.
Incredibly, though Norwich could have retaken the lead all within the first 20 minutes. Hoolahan was involved again, this time swinging in a ball from the right that found Alexander Tettey left completely free by a deep lying Chelsea defense but the midfielder got his stooping header all wrong from just eight yards out.
Norwich’s punishment was compounded as Chelsea took a lead they never relinquished just a few minutes later. Torres tried to manufacture an effort on goal with an overhead kick that was blocked from close range but the ball fell to Lampard on the edge of the box, who produced a customary astute finish as he struck low into the corner.
Ashley Cole, in the news for all the wrong reasons in the past 24 hours, almost put himself in the headlines for the right reasons, but failed to make proper contact with a header from close range after a cross from Oscar.
It would matter not, though, as Chelsea scored the pick of the goals just past the half-hour mark to take a decisive 3-1 lead.
Juan Mata, superb throughout, broke from inside his own half to the edge of the Norwich box and playing a scintillating ball through two Norwich defenders perfectly weighted for the onrushing Hazard to side foot first time past Ruddy.
It was a goal of the highest order and showed once more why Chelsea can be a threat to any side with the collection of silky-skilled attacking midfielders.
Despite everything now going Chelsea’s way, Norwich had yet another golden opportunity right on half time. Out of nothing Johnson dug out a cross to the only Norwich player in the area, Holt, but the striker put his header over the top.
Clearly feeling the job was all-but done, Roberto Di Matteo’s side largely took their feet off the gas in the second-half. Still, Norwich struggled to cope on more than one occasion. Chelsea will doubtless feel they should have had at least one penalty first as Barnett came across and took down Oscar and later for as Hazard was tripped by Johnson.
While Torres will have been pleased with his goal, he will also know that he could and should have had more. Another chance came his way after an exhilarating one-two with Hazard, but again his finish lacked conviction and Ruddy was able to pull off what was, admittedly, a fine save.
There was still time for Chelsea to add a fourth, 14 minutes from time. Ivanovic added an exclamation point to the score line with an emphatic volley past Ruddy at his near post after Mata had flicked back a cross into his path.
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