While the result was in doubt deep into the second half, Chelsea rose to earn a 3-1 result at Stamford Bridge.
The Torres-Drogba saga was revived in this match. Manager Andre Villas-Boas started both forwards up front. AVB settled on an attacking diamond formation, with John Obi Mikel set back to help out the defenders with what tends to be a quick Norwich counterattack. This choice of diamond formation again showed Chelsea’s desire to play in the center of the pitch, rather than use wider players to create room. Fernando Torres did move wide right some, and Ashley Cole was also quick to move forward to help on the left, and while Malouda did contribute on the left, he wasn’t particularly inventive.
Norwich City has shown to favor the diamond formation under Paul Lambert, but in this match they varied slightly from this formula. They effectively dropped the defensive midfielder into the backline, in the form of center half Leon Barnett. This gave them a 3/5-man backline, presumably to handle the duo of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres. Norwich still had a three-man midfield to deal with the narrow 4 of Chelsea. Grant Holt was the primary striker for the Canaries, with Chris Martin being more of a #10.
Chelsea grabbed the early lead as Norwich looked uncomfortable in a 5 man backfield. Fullback Bosingwa accepted a pass from Frank Lampard 7 yards outside the area, had lots of space, and took a 20 yard shot that beat John Ruddy to his right less than 6 minutes in. Bosingwa was in the space that likely would have been occupied by a holding midfielder, but he was left unmarked and took full advantage.
American defender Zak Whitbread was injured early in the match, which provided Lambert a convenient reason to adjust his tactic. He brought on left midfielder Anthony Pilkington, which pushed the Canaries into a somewhat defensive diamond. Both teams had their opportunities in the first half, but the half concluded with Chelsea in front.
There were no major tactical changes heading into the second half. While Chelsea dominated possession to start the second half (127 Chelsea passes to 33 for Norwich through the 62nd minute), the combination of Drogba and Torres wasn’t fluid, and this caused their efforts in the final third to be less than spectacular (two set piece shots and two from long range).
In the 63rd minute, a mistake cost them their lead. Chelsea’s goalkeeper Hilario came out to grab a high cross into the area. Center back Branislav Ivanovic failed to hear Hilario call him off, and they collided. The ball went straight up, and it fell to Holt. He quickly volleyed the ball into the open net before John Terry could retreat to cover.
After the equalizer, the faithful at Stamford Bridge were getting antsy, but quickly their attention would turn to the health of one of their favorites. As Drogba leapt to reach a cross in the area, Ruddy punched him in the side of the head with both fists. The forward laid unconscious on the ground for several minutes. Reports as of this writing say that Drogba received a serious concussion.
After the injury, Nicolas Anelka replaced the injured striker. At the same time, new signing Juan Mata was introduced into the lineup for the first time, coming on for Florent Malouda. Tactically, Villas-Boas adopted a hybrid three-forward set, with Mata and Anelka trading who would drop deeper to help link play. The fact remained that Chelsea continued to dominate possession, but lacked a creative flair to pull ahead. And if not for another game-changing moment in the 80th minute, a draw looked likely.
On the counterrush, Anelka fed a ball diagonally through to Ramires. After a heavy touch into the box, he and Ruddy came together at the ball. Ramires arrived a bit earlier, and Ruddy was called for the penalty after he tripped the Brazilian midfielder. Ruddy was also shown off for a last-man foul, a punishment that seemed harsh for the situation. Lampard’s penalty kick bested replacement keeper Declan Rudd, fired behind him down the middle for the decisive goal.
Down a man, Norwich still had opportunities, especially with 11 minutes of injury time. Substitute Steve Morison (for Wes Hoolahan) had a couple of opportunities on the break, but failed to effectively pull the trigger. But as Chelsea applied more pressure, a defensive lapse in the corner by the Canaries allowed Mata to dribble towards goal. He carved a shot past Rudd near the end of stoppage time to seal the 3-1 victory.
For a second week, the Canaries dropped points after a referee ejected one of their players. Their play, while not strong on possession, has been based on the quick counterstrike. Holt is a fun, somewhat feisty player to watch up front. We still haven’t seen enough of Simeon Jackson, and perhaps we would have seen him if not for the red card.
With regards to Juan Mata, here is a graphic that shows the comparison between him and Florent Malouda (Mata on bottom). In only 30 minutes, Mata completely 27 of 30 passes, while Malouda was successful on only 32 of 44 in about 64 minutes of play. Mata’s touches always seemed exciting, bringing a cutting edge to the match. His goal was well-deserved, in my opinion.
Finally, I’d just like to pray that Drogba is able to make a full recovery from what happened today. He has been one of the greats in the Premier League. We’ve all seen these types of horrible collisions, and fortunately in this day and age medical professionals take these injuries very seriously. I hope this guy is able to rehabilitate back to full health, and gets back out there to dazzle us with his skills.