A combination of missed chances and top-draw goal-keeping saw Chelsea succumb to a 0-0 draw against an impressive Norwich City. Chelsea missed a hat full of chances to keep pace with their title rivals in Saturday’s early kick off at Carrow Road. Fernando Torres was guilty of failing to convert the game’s best chance whilst Norwich keeper John Ruddy saved excellently to deny the Spaniard in an earlier duel. The home side survived an onslaught of Chelsea pressure to claim a vital win that moves them into the top half of the table.
Chelsea went into this lunch time kick off knowing that the teams above them were not to play for another 24 hours, yet they were unable to land the psychological blow and now find themselves 10 points adrift of leaders Manchester City. Andre Villas-Boas made only one change to the team that beat Sunderland 1-0 last weekend, with the in form Daniel Sturridge returning from injury in place of Oriol Romeu. Torres, standing in for Didier Drogba as he guns for glory with Ivory Coast at the African Nations Cup, continued up front and was hoping to provide the answer to the recent Chelsea question: “where will the goals come from?”
Yet despite a good start from the visitors in which they took control, Norwich had the game’s first real chance. Anthony Pilkington had his effort saved by Petr Cech in the seventh minute after Steve Morison had fed the Irishman, whilst Morison’s effort from the rebound was blocked by Ramires. The Welsh striker was the heart-beat of every Norwich venture forward and Grant Holt dragged his shot wide after being played in by Morison as the home side began to find their rhythm.
Whilst Chelsea were undoubtedly enjoying more possession than the hosts, it was Paul Lambert’s men who were fashioning goal-scoring chances and Pilkington caused havoc in the Chelsea area with a curling effort which was cleared before Morison fired into the side-netting. Pilkington again showed much promise when he teed up Bradley Johnson but his effort was well blocked by John Terry.
Chelsea’s first notable attack was crafted by the ever-influential Juan Mata who dribbled down the left and almost found Sturridge with a deft lobbed ball, but the young striker could not control the ball and danger was averted. Then began Torres’ match-long feud with Canaries keeper Ruddy as the Spaniard did brilliantly to create space for himself, turning the defender with a sharp feint before his goal bound effort was forced past the post by a stretching Ruddy.
With a little more bravery, Torres might have bundled Chelsea into the lead but Ruddy showed the Spaniard no mercy as he plucked the ball from a Chelsea cross. Chances were being created and spurned at both ends as the first half drew to a close, and whilst the games intensity suffered when Frank Lampard received treatment before being subbed for Florent Malouda, Mata could have put the visitors ahead. His jinking run looked certain to end in a goal but his effort flew over the bar and the teams made for their dressing rooms leaving both sets of fans eager for another thrilling half.
It was Chelsea who appeared the more likely to take the lead when play resumed. Luiz- a defender who has that instinctive Brazilian adventure in his game- threw caution to the wind as he surged forward before firing over from 20-yards. Torres then wasted a guilt -edged chance to put his side ahead when Bosingwa did ever-so-well to tee him up, only for the Spaniard to stab the ball wide from 8-yards. It is now 17 games since Torres last scored- against Genk back in October- a fact not only he, but Villas-Boas, will be only too aware of.
Chelsea continued to assert pressure whilst Norwich defended admirably; throwing themselves in front of shots whilst remaining tough to break down. Not just content to keep their sheet clean, the Canaries looked dangerous on the counter attack and Chelsea survived claims for handball on the edge of their box when Meireles appeared to strike the ball with his hand. Mark Clattenburg either did not see the offence, or deemed it unworthy of punishment and Chelsea survived.
Torres’ misery was compounded when he was cruelly substituted for Romelu Lukaku; cruel because of the taunts and cheers from the home support that greeted the Spaniard as he left the field. Chelsea kept pressing for that vital goal with Ramires going close and Mata at the centre of everything that Chelsea did well but the Norwich rearguard held out for a deserved point. It is not the first time Chelsea have lost ground on their Premier League title rivals, and unless they can find a clinical edge to their play, you can predict that it will not be the last. It remains to be seen whether Roman Abramovich will whip out his cheque book to recruit a proven goal-scorer as he did last January. If he does, he’ll be hoping to spend a little bit less whilst hoping his recruit has not forgotten where the goal is.