Analysis: Chelsea's interchanging forward line destroys Norwich City

Mike Hewitt - Getty Images

Norwich City were leading 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. That was odd. I suspect zero Chelsea fans were actually angry at Grant Holt's goal, partially because it came as such a shock and partially because it was fairly clear that a 1-0 Norwich City lead was never, ever going to hold up.

It didn't, of course. Despite badly blowing a clear-cut opportunity very early on, Fernando Torres would soon notch an equaliser, and Chelsea ended up romping to a 4-1 win. The margin of victory fails to reflect just how superior the Blues were on the afternoon -- a combination of incompetence from the referees and the Blues relaxing meant that the won by three rather than the five or six that they probably deserved.

But for three minutes or so, taking Norwich for granted felt the tiniest bit premature. That is, until this happened:

No, I'm not really sure how Chelsea got here. There was a throw-in on the right, a replay of Grant Holt's goal, and then suddenly Frank Lampard is finding Juan Mata in acres of space on the right. Norwich City defended in two banks of four, and it looks like what's happened is that Oscar and Mata have made scissoring runs, with the former dragging Canaries left back Javier Garrido into the centre while the latter breaks free down the right. If Lampard's pass connects and Mata can control, Chelsea temporarily have a two-versus-one situation on the right side, with Mata and Branislav Ivanovic opposing Bradley Johnson.

Connect it does. Johnson's immediately on Mata, attempting to cut off his route inside. Unfortunately for Norwich, Mata has no intention of taking the bait, and Johnson's movement has opened up space for Ivanovic if he receives the ball. Meanwhile, Fernando Torres has managed to restrain himself from following the flight of Lampard's pass forwards, holding back on the edge of the box.

This is important. I can't remember who said it, but during the spanking Chelsea received at the hand of Atletico Madrid, someone commented that Radamel Falcao would utilise space not by occupying it immediately, but rather reserving it to burst into when the ball was played to him. Torres tends to use space by parking himself squarely its centre, at which point said space is no longer actually space. Here, he created a chance by hanging back and giving himself the opportunity to attack a potential cross.

And now Mata's beaten Johnson with a sumptuous backheel, setting up Ivanovic to do... well, basically whatever he wants. The right back chooses to cross, and his delivery is excellent, set to land between the two centre backs and hit just hard enough that Leon Barnett has no real way of attacking the ball. Sebastien Bassong's tracking Oscar and can't help, which means that Torres has a free run on the ball...

... yep. 1-1, 14 minutes in. Taking nothing away from Torres' clever play and Barnett's poor defending, I suspect that the origin of this goal lay slightly before the first frame, when Oscar and Mata were combining to shepherd the Norwich City defence into a shape that Lampard could work with. The movement here was wonderful, the passing sound, and the finishing excellent -- well done to all involved.

The second goal is an even more impressive team move. The story begins here:

Chelsea have a throw-in in their own defensive third following the breakdown of a one-two between Holt and Elliot Bennett. And then, once they get the ball, they don't give it back. Seventy-odd seconds and twenty passes later, and we find ourselves somewhere else entirely.

The goal, of course, was somewhat fortunate -- a lucky bounce from a Fernando Torres overhead kick attempt fell to Lampard at the edge of the box, and he tucked it in, but what was really excellent is the way Chelsea worked the Norwich defence to make room for that cross to Torres.

The key thing to note here is that all three of Chelsea's main creative players are in the centre. So too is their centre forward. The goal will be to get Torres into a position where he can make a run while simultaneously freeing up one of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar to make a pass to him. Here's how they did it:

Phew. Going to have to go all numbered list on this move.

  1. Hazard splits two yellow shirts with an inch-perfect pass to Oscar. Note that Torres has dropped towards John Ruddy's goal and Mata is drifting wide.
  2. Oscar lays the ball off to Torres, who has to come forward to receive it.
  3. Torres momentum draws him back towards the Chelsea half, but he's able to pass sideways to Mata.
  4. Who finds Hazard. Torres moves back towards the box.
  5. Nothing is on for a while, so Hazard waits until Oscar occupies the space Torres has just left, picking him out with the side of his boot.
  6. Oscar immediately plays it back to Mata, who's now free thanks to Hazard drawing Elliot Bennett off with a clever run. Note that Torres is now in a position to run straight through Norwich's defensive line

And the rest, as they say, is history.

There's probably not much point analysing goals three and four, since they teach us basically nothing. Mata's run and pass to Hazard were, obviously, sublime, but we already knew that both players are quite good at football and the ball that ended up dissecting the Norwich defence on that goal was fairly obvious. And the Ivanovic goal came after Norwich had already given up entirely (although yes, the scorpion kick assist was very cool).

Chelsea's interchanges were what won the day against the Canaries, and that's best showcased in the first two goals. After that, despite a few dodgy moments on defence, it was basically a procession.


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