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By Paul Lagan at Stamford Bridge
Saturday, October 6, 2012
Premier League: Chelsea 4 Norwich 1
Chelsea remain top of the Premier League after a regulation 4-1 win at Stamford Bridge against a very poor Norwich City side.
The visitors, who haven’t won a league game all season, had the audacity to actually take the lead through hitman Grant Holt. But Chelsea responded with clinical efficiency with three first half strikes from Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard.
The second half was very much a display of the mercurial talents of Oscar, Juan Mata and Hazard and the fourth goal came from the boot of Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic.
Torres had an excellent chance to open the scoring on three minutes when he beat the City offside trap and raced into the penalty area following a long pass by Lampard.
However the Spain striker could not deliver the finish, instead checking back and allowing Leon Barnett to close him down.
Despite almost total possession by the home side, Norwich failed to read the script and opened the scoring.
A left-footed cross by Wesley Hoolahan to Petr Cech’s far post saw the ball headed back to the edge of the Chelsea area by Elliot Bennett and up popped skipper Holt to arrow a perfect drive under the lunging John Terry and Cech.
But normal service was resumed three minutes later when a back heel by Mata on the right edge of the visitors’ penalty area fed in-running Ivanovic. The full-back sent in the perfect cross to Torres, who made up for his earlier fluff by dispatching a powerful header past John Ruddy from 10 yards out.
The Canaries almost restored the lead on 18 minutes when yet again impressive Hoolahan curled a cross on to the head of unmarked Alexander Tettey, but the midfielder, instead of heading home from close range, screwed the effort wide.
Stalwart Lampard decided to take the untidy game by the scruff of the neck, and dispatched a trademark right-footer on 22 minutes past Ruddy – his 189th Chelsea career goal - after an attempted overhead kick by Torres was blocked.
This Chelsea side is an emerging one, with a distinct counter-attacking flair.
Nowhere was this more evident than on 31 minutes, when Mata collected the ball midway in his own half.
The livewire Spain midfielder raced 40 yards forward, deep into enemy territory, all the time looking for support.
That came in the form of Hazard who accelerated clear on the left. Mata produced an inch-perfect ball, bisecting the Norwich defence which Hazard latched onto, just inside their penalty area and coolly dispatched a low shot past the hapless Ruddy to extend the home side’s lead.
Whenever the ball came close to Holt - which wasn’t often - he still posed a threat. Two minutes before the break he almost headed his side back into the game from eight yards out, but the ball inched the wrong side of Cech’s upright.
An early second half shout from the majority of the 41,784 crowd for a penalty for a foul on Hazard by Barnett was turned down by referee Anthony Taylor as Chelsea turned the screw again. Ruddy then produced a fine diving save from an Oscar long-range effort just after the hour mark.
The Blues decided to change Lampard for Ramires on 67 minutes, with Norwich responding by replacing Bradley Johnson for Anthony Pilkington in their desperate search of goals.
Torres should have punished Norwich’s sloppy defending with 15 minutes remaining, when he latched onto a fine Hazard through ball. But Ruddy was quick to spot the chance and managed to snuff out his shot.
But the inevitable happened two minutes later. A deep cross-field ball from the left by Oscar was somewhat fortunately back heeled on by Mata and Ivanovic dispatched with consummate ease, leaving Ruddy with no chance.
Ivanovic was then promptly replaced by Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo for Spain right-back Cesar Azpilicueta for his league debut.
Another Spain player, Oriol Romeu, entered the fray on 82 minutes with Mikel, on his 250th appearance for Chelsea, making way.
Romeu was quickly in the action and saw a 25-yarder zip past the Norwich goal.
And then, two minutes later, his snap header flashed wide of the same right post.
The game fizzled out with the points decided. Chelsea go into the international break safe in the knowledge they are the team to topple, while Norwich will be looking to use the time productively as their season hurtles towards a battle against relegation.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Cole, Luiz, Lampard, Torres, Mata,Oscar, Mikel, Hazard, Terry
Subs-Turnbull, Romeu, Ramires, Moses, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Bertrand
Norwich City: Ruddy, Martin, Johnson, Bassong, Howson, Holt, Hoolahan, Bennett, Garrido, Barnett, Tettey
Subs - Bunn, Turner, Snodgrass, Jackson, Pilkington, Morison, Bennett