Chelsea needed to grab three points against Norwich City with a resurgent Arsenal coming up strong (should they win their games in hand), and we also needed to not let the distractions and circumstance affect the quality of the play. Tuchel made it a point to promise that pre-match, and he and the players duly delivered on that promise.
It was a dazzling first half display of football from the Blues, once again showing that Havertz’s displacement of Lukaku and a more mellifluously interchanging front three have been the driving factors to our recent goals and, in turn, successes.
With no surprises or tricks in formation, Tuchel set out a 3-4-3 despite the lack of (m)any true wing-backs at his disposal. Despite the limited threat expected from the opposition, he was forced into fielding more defensively-minded players for those wide positions that he might have done otherwise. None of Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, or Reece James were available, so he deployed Saúl Ñíguez and an only recently back from injury César Azpilicueta.
The back three added some surprise, as ironman Antonio Rüdiger was given a break and Andreas Christensen was run out in his stead on the left edge. With Trevoh Chalobah getting another start on the right and the always outstanding Thiago Silva supervising, the defense and thereby Édouard Mendy were relatively untested, especially in the first half.
Jorginho came back into the midfield after a period of rest and with the expectation of providing and dictating controlled possession. Mateo Kovačić was partnered with him to break lines both defensively and offensively, and his heat and touch map both show that he was getting all around the pitch significantly more than Jorginho.
The front three were meant to stretch the pitch vertically while our wingbacks would do so horizontally. While the attacking trio and Azpilicueta all absolutely achieved that objective, Saúl had a tendency to revert to his preferred, central position rather than adhere to his role and stay wide. This often caught him behind the attack and hindered our left-side’s effectiveness.
Even in the buildup to our first goal, it was only after 24 consecutive passes in their half and every other outfield player had touched the ball that Saúl drifted wide and earned us the corner.
On said corner just a few minutes into the game, we were able to exploit the deficiencies of zonal marking and conjured yet another goal, adding to our already impressive tally of 11 set piece goals for the season.
While trying to mark the once again impressive Chalobah, Josh Sargent instead only interfered with Tim Krul’s ability to save or defend the beautifully inswinging delivery from Mount, leaving Chalobah unchallenged to redirect the ball into the net.
The two circumstances that led to our first goal would dictate our play in the first half, as Kai Havertz’s mobility helped disperse the Canaries’ back line that wanted to stay flat and compact while the lack of a wide, left-sided presence would repeatedly complicate our attack with Saúl not offering that wider option frequently enough, especially early on.
Saúl would eventually catch on and the second goal was a result of wider, side-to-side swinging play, with another sustained sequence of quick switches in their half (15 this time) drawing out their midfield and creating the space needed to break through their lines.
Unlike in the sequence highlighted above, in this case Saúl stays wide to offer a passing option for Christensen, while stretching the Norwich midfield and opening up a gap in the half-space for Werner to slide into.
With Havertz occupying a wider position, thereby dragging the defense out of shape — their flat line had to step forward to cover Werner but also wide to cover Havertz’s run — he’s able to receive the ball from Werner, cut insider his defender, and find Mount in space near the penalty spot. Fluid movement, and a drilled finish into the top corner: just like they would’ve drawn it up!
Havertz’s movements specifically, creating asymmetrical attacks down either flank and one-sided overloads, were tearing to pieces the rigid defensive structure of Norwich. Those central channels he was opening up show why not only his goals and assists but his off the ball movement as well have been the greatest contributing factor to our ability to put the ball in the net more regularly of late.
The first half would end somewhat unceremoniously, as our intensity of play eased and a blackbird failing to take flight from the pitch was the perfect metaphor to describe the play of our avian opposition.
6 - Mason Mount (4 goals & 2 assists vs Norwich in 2021-22) became just the third Chelsea player to be involved in six goals against an opponent in a single Premier League season after Frank Lampard vs Aston Villa in 2009-10 (6) and Diego Costa vs Swansea in 2014-15 (6). Star. pic.twitter.com/GOlrHOaHRI— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 10, 2022
Halftime brought about a few changes to both sides and we were worse off as a result. Azpilicueta apparently needed to be removed due to a stomach issue, and already short on wingbacks, the experiment involving Ruben Loftus-Cheek was tried again.
In theory, he does have some similar attributes to Reece James, and this may be Tuchel’s reasoning behind now twice fielding him as a sub at right wing-back. But while his forward carries and take-ons have been similar to what he is capable of in the middle of the park, he does not offer the same wide threat, timed runs, or finishing ability that James has out wide. Expecting similar results would be unfair.
Our offensive thrust was negatively affected as a result, and Norwich grew into the game, hitting us on the wings specifically, and culminating with being awarded a penalty — our 5th conceded this season, tied for third most (Norwich have an astounding 10) — when Chalobah lunged to block a cross from the right (i.e. Loftus-Cheek’s side) but did so with his arm (spotted by VAR).
Mendy would do his best to taunt and delay the kick in an attempt to throw off Teemu Pukki, unsuccessfully. The game would get stretched and stressful as a result.
Thankfully, the frenetic finish to the game worked in our benefit, as the very late changes of N’Golo Kanté for Kovačić and Romelu Lukaku for Werner added some fresh legs and revived our direct play for the final minutes.
Kanté, Havertz, and Loftus-Cheek would actually be almost immediately involved in a wonderful overload that saw a low cross sent across the six for Lukaku’s first touch. Unfortunately, it would get deflected wide for our eighth corner on the day.
As Norwich pushed forward for an equalizer, the quality of defense, midfield transitioning, and finishing would be the difference. Thankfully, we were superior in all departments. Mount dropped even deeper, as required by the pitch being fully-stretched, and the addition of Kanté would both bolster that midfield and add the final dynamism needed to exploit the enormous amounts of time we had spent in the final third.
A quick turn and a touch to separate himself from the press would let Kanté pick his pass, to an open player on the penalty spot just as Mount had been earlier. This time the beneficiary was Havertz, who just placed himself behind Lukaku (making him the distractor), picked up the ball around the top of the eighteen, and buried a delightful finish into the cobwebs of the net. It would be his fifth goal contribution in the last four games and it would settle things for good.