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Bafflingly bad Chelsea worth nothing more than goalless draw at Norwich City in FA Cup third round

Norwich City 0-0 Chelsea, FA Cup: Match report

Norwich City v Chelsea - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Chelsea’s first game of this year’s FA Cup campaign involved a trip to Norwich City’s Carrow Road, beginning the journey that last season took the Blues all the way to the final. But if Chelsea are looking to avenge the 2-1 defeat to Arsenal on that sunny May afternoon, they will have to do a lot better than today’s 0-0 against a mid-table Championship outfit. A heavily rotated and completely out of sync Chelsea were worth nothing more than a goalless draw, with a questionable reward of a replay added to an already congested schedule.

Antonio Conte made several changes to his starting line-up after the exhausting (both physically and emotionally) match on Wednesday at the Emirates. The highlight was certainly David Luiz’s return to duty in the centre of the backline — once again fit after dealing with knee inflammation. First-choice forward pairing Eden Hazard and Álvaro Morata made way for the trio of Willian, Michy Batshuayi, and Pedro, while there were also starts for Caballero, Kenedy, and Danny Drinkwater. César Azpilicueta was rested, which is worth a mention since it happens so very rarely.

As for Norwich, boss Daniel Farke — one of several people getting opportunities around Europe from Jurgen Klopp’s coaching tree — picked his strongest available players, deploying in a striker-less 3-4-3 mirror shape instead of their usual 4-2-3-1.

Neither side looked too eager to open up and risk giving away an early goal. The hosts tried a bit of high pressing in the first minute, attempting to force a mistake out of Chelsea’s backline, but when they were unable to find success in this fashion, they dropped back and let us exchange passes between defenders and midfield — with Chelsea matching the hosts’ lack of any tangible success.

As the teams traded dour bouts of possession, Norwich seemed slightly more effective, though still toothless in the final third. At least the Blues’ defence was looking solid with Caballero a virtual bystander, even if our best attacking ideas were reduced to David Luiz and Drinkwater hitting long balls to Kenedy on the left flank. Drinkwater’s efforts both in and out of possession surely could’ve used a bit of help from midfield partner Tiemoué Bakayoko, who instead continued his rather indifferent form.

Norwich City v Chelsea - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the attacking line remained worryingly isolated, lacking width, and wasteful when found. Batshuayi was unable to free himself from the marking of two or three centre-backs, receiving little help from his supposed support forwards, who ended up having to drop deep to get any touches on the ball.

Disappointing as that might have been, things were still looking solid at the back. But after two consecutive mistakes from David Luiz — the first after being pressed by Alex Pritchard in our box and nearly gifting the attacker a chance at goal, and then a bad touch to give Norwich a dangerous counterattack — the entire defensive unit started to look shaky, and plenty of sloppy play ensued.

Davide Zappacosta and Antonio Rüdiger’s right flank was torn apart by winger Josh Murphy, with his teammates Pritchard and James Maddison later joining the show and showing better flow in their attacks than their Chelsea counterparts. They were more than helped by our lethargic play in all sectors of the pitch, with bad passes rather than the Canaries’ creativity setting up most of their chances at our goal.

And still, Chelsea could have taken the lead in the last minute of the first half. But referee Stuart Attwell chose that moment to make some questionable decisions. First, he gave Pedro a handball on a clear foul by defender Grant Hanley, and then he blew his whistle just before the Spaniard found the end of a proper cross from Kenedy to record what would have been Chelsea’s first (!) shot on target in the game.

After a first half that barely passed for a competitive occasion, and what was undoubtedly not a nice half-time talk from Conte, Chelsea looked to change their tune.

Taking the initiative, the Blues recorded 4 shots on target in the first 15 minutes of the second half, finally making goalkeeper Angus Gunn do some work. These attempts came from Willian and Batshuayi, though it was the Brazilian who got closer to scoring. Unfortunately for us, neither managed to actually change Chelsea’s recent finishing habits.

Without reward to that good period, the game settled into a more back-and-forth affair, with the hosts once again producing better, if not entirely high quality chances. In the 63rd minute, a Pritchard shot was thankfully blocked by David Luiz, while six minutes later, after Wilfredo Cabellero’s half-arsed attempt at defending a cross from a set-piece, Murphy wasted a great opportunity by realizing he was not good enough of a player to find even the right direction towards goal on his ensuing shot.

With the starting eleven clearly not working, Conte made a few typically late substitutions. On came misfiring striker Álvaro Morata in place of useless striker Michy Batshuayi, followed by young hopeful Charly Musonda Jr. for young hopeless Kenedy — but without any actual effect on the game itself. Then teenager Dujon Sterling made his second appearance for Chelsea, for all of a minute plus added-on time as Pedro made way.

Chelsea managed a handful of long-ranged efforts and offside calls that did little to shake Norwich’s defence, before the game met its rather timely and boring end. Yawn.

The result is clearly far from ideal not only for the negative impact on our fixture list, but also as a showcase of just how dreadful our side can be without some of our key players. Maybe Ross Barkley will save us in the replay!


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