There was no drama. Stress was kept at reasonably appropriate levels throughout. There was no hint of divine displeasure, no random plays of chance, no heinous interventions by the Dread Referee* to obscure the progress that Chelsea have been making over the past few weeks. Instead, we were treated to that rarest of gifts: a routine 1-0 win in which the Blues were comfortably the better side.
*That's not an excuse for anything; I just like writing 'heinous'.
Even bearing in mind that Norwich City are hardly an appropriate measuring stick for this club, it was gratifying to watch a strong performance rewarded with all three points. Chelsea had picked themselves up off the mat in previous weeks with nothing to show for it, but here they stepped up their play again, and the only surprise was that they only managed a one-goal win.
Before diving into the back and forth of the match itself, it's worth taking a moment to talk about Eden Hazard. He's quite clearly the most talented player at the club, and it's similarly obvious that he hasn't been anywhere near his usual level so far this season. At the Britannia we saw flashes of the Hazard we're all used to, and today we got an extended showing. By the time he came off the pitch I suspect everyone bar Opta had lost track of the Canaries he'd left in his wake. Forget the fire and brimstone: trying to deal with Hazard in that sort of mood is probably the top punishment in whichever hell Premier League defenders' souls end up landing. Hopefully this renaissance is sustainable rather than just a short burst; we're in much better shape if so.
Forgetting Hazard -- something Norwich would like to do, I'm sure -- the rest of the team all did their part. We were treated to the unfamiliar sight of Kenedy starting at left back, but despite being an attacking player by trade the youngster did extremely well on both sides of the ball, positioning himself responsibly and serving as a useful outlet on the left flank. The face at right back was more familiar. Branislav Ivanovic made his return from injury and despite some amusing moments managed to hold the line without making too much of an idiot out of himself.
Truthfully, the defenders didn't have much to do. Chelsea were in control from the off and bulldozed their way into the Norwich half virtually at will. It was a miracle that John Ruddy held out through halftime without conceding: he saved clean looks from Willian and Diego Costa (that one came after a magnificent and mercifully rare John Terry block) and had some poor finishing to thank for not being forced into more.
As is tradition in a Chelsea game, the teams also traded penalty shouts, with Willian and Robbie Brady trading sort-of-fouls of varying severity before Sebastien Bassong brought Costa down with a rugby tackle as the half came to a close. The last was egregious, and we'd probably have more to say about it if not for the three points. Funny how that works.
Anyway, at the interval the match was scoreless despite Chelsea's dominance, which naturally set off alarm bells with fans who've been dealing with promising beginnings and dismal ends all season. But this time it was different. There was no freak opposition goal at the start of the second half to set us back on our heels, and rather than melt into their usual shapeless blob of panic, the Blues slowly amped up the pressure.
Hazard, of course, was rampant, dragging yellow shirts across the pitch and opening up space for his teammates. But for a while it looked like we might not be able to take advantage of his industry. There was a sequence in which the Belgian wriggled free down the right and fired in a low cross which would have been tap-ins for both Pedro and Costa had either bothered to make their runs. They didn't of course, much to the annoyance of the supporters, who hasn't quite finished complaining by the time Costa scored to make it 1-0.
Diego Costa had a strange first half. He received the ball in the area plenty of times, but he was never quite in position to turn his man and shoot. That meant that he mostly ended up in useless positions near the corner flag, watching his teammates buzz around hopelessly before Norwich shut the door. As soon as he had space, however, he took full advantage. Fàbregas opened the door with a smart, quickly-taken free kick, and Costa did the rest, shredding Ryan Bennett before cutting inside and slotting in at the far post.
Kurt Zouma might have doubled the lead just minutes later when he flicked Willian's free-kick off the crossbar, but he barely had time to rue the missed opportunity before he contributed to Norwich's only serious chance at the other end of the pitch. A botched clearance left Nemanja Matic flailing in Brady's wake, and if not for Asmir Begovic's flying save we might all be in a far worse mood right now.
Other than that chance, however, Chelsea had the visitors right where they wanted them, and looked far more likely to make it 2-0 than concede what would have been a horrifying equaliser. Matic, of all people, nearly made the points safe after a mazy run somehow broke the entire Norwich line. The finish wasn't nearly as good, allowing Ruddy to claw behind for a corner and ensuring we'd get at least a marginally nervy finish.
Ramires, Cesar Azpilicueta and Oscar all made appearances as the match ground to a halt. By this point the Canaries were throwing everything forward and forcing the Blues to defend a bit, but for all their late position they never looked especially threatening. A couple of late dashes for the corner flag were enough to kill off the four minutes of stoppage time, leaving Chelsea with their first win in four. Nobody can deny it was deserved.
Fourteen points in 13 games is not a good return by any means, and the Blues have a big mountain to climb before we get to where we need to be. But the performances are improving and the results are starting to come. If we'll recover, we'll do so one step at a time, and this was a very nice step. Onwards and upwards.