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Juan Mata earns Chelsea vital win at Carrow Road

Julian Finney

Chelsea followed up their hilarious 8-0 thrashing of Aston Villa on Sunday with a composed and cool 1-0 win against Norwich City at Carrow Road, a result significantly more impressive than it looks on paper. Prior to a Romelu Lukaku-powered defeat against West Bromwich Albion over the weekend, the Canaries had been on a ten-match unbeaten run in the Premier League, and at home they've already taken the scalps of both Manchester United and Arsenal.

It was perfect timing, in other words, for the Blues to run straight into a trap.

Except that wasn't what happened at all. Although Chelsea found Norwich's organised defence much harder to break down than they did whatever the heck it was that Paul Lambert fielded against us on Sunday, a Juan Mata strike 38 minutes in was enough to take the three points. And there wasn't even the Chelsea-standard nervous breakdown in the last fifteen minutes.

Eden Hazard and Frank Lampard were rested for this one, with Oscar and John Obi Mikel coming in to replace them. Obviously, Hazard won't stay out of the lineup for long, but it's difficult to say whether the Mikel for Lampard swap will be more permanent. Having the Nigerian in the side allows David Luiz to be a more influential player in midfield, but Rafa Benitez hasn't seemed particularly inclined to field Mikel regularly. He didn't hurt his chances of starting more with his performance today.

Oscar, on the other hand, began the match relatively anonymously. There was a certain flair missing from Chelsea's attack, and neither he nor Victor Moses were particularly involved early on. In fact, most of the forward drive game from David Luiz, who -- between hilariously bad long-range shots, it must be noted -- played some brilliant through passes from midfield only to see them wasted every time.

Norwich were doing a fine job closing down the Blues whenever we were in possession, most especially when an opportunity for a shot appeared. But they could only keep up the pressing game for so long, and as soon as they relaxed, Mata struck.

There wasn't much room for the Spaniard to do anything when Oscar slid him the ball 38 minutes in. Thirty yards from goal and without a pass on, Mata had four yellow shirts in reasonably close proximity. But none went in for the tackle, leaving Johnny Kills with time and space to shift the ball onto his left foot and send a lovely curling effort off Mark Bunn's fingertips and into the back of the net.

The lead was deserved -- Chelsea had dominated possession throughout the first half, and despite failing to create many chances they were obviously the better side. Not much changed after the break, although Moses did waste a prime chance to double the advantage when he brilliantly chested down a cross only to completely un-brilliantly toepoke well wide, and Oscar nearly scored straight from a corner kick when his near-post delivery evaded everyone save a scrambling Bunn.

Norwich felt dangerous, of course, but despite a sense of impending doom the pressure was never on the Chelsea goal for that long. Ashley Cole came closest to scoring for Norwich with a pair of highly unorthodox clearances, but neither caused much in the way of consternation for Petr Cech, who had his second straight quiet match.

The only event of significance we saw in the second half was came 92 minutes in, when Mata was withdrawn for centre back Nathan Ake to hand the 17-year-old his senior debut. Ake has approximately nothing to do, but it was an important moment in a hopefully impressive career for the youngster, and he was appropriately thrilled after the match:

Other than that, it was a pretty quiet performance. Chelsea were never going to match the ridiculous highs of Sunday's demolition job against Villa, but considering the difficulty of this fixture, I'll happily take an assured display and all three points. With Manchester City's loss at the Stadium of light, we're now only four points out of second place with a game in hand. That's three Premier League wins on the trot for Benitez.

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