Juan Mata’s 13th goal of the season, on his 50th Barclays Premier League appearance, brought us a third consecutive league win on Boxing Day.
The festive calendar has so far been kind to Chelsea, with this hard-fought away win following up Sunday’s goalfest at Stamford Bridge, and after a slow start where we looked second-best, we improved to grind out a win against an in-form home side that had won their last five at Carrow Road.
The goal was a well-struck curling effort from just outside the area towards the end of a competitive but fairly scrappy first half, this being the standout moment of quality, and although there were further chances in the second period, Chelsea fans will be well pleased with the win on a day when rivals dropped points.
Rafael Benitez made two changes to his starting 11, with John Mikel Obi returning after suspension, joined by Oscar, with those two in for Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard.
That meant Peter Cech would captain the side, which once more contained David Luiz in central midfield with Ramires, who scored two against Aston Villa, missing as a precaution with a slight knee injury.
Hosts Norwich welcomed back captain and talisman Grant Holt after injury, while Russell Martin replaced Steven Whittaker at right-back. Goalkeeper John Ruddy was still absent as the Canaries sought to beat Chelsea for the first time in 18 years.
This Norwich City side, under the guidance of Chris Hughton after Paul Lambert’s departure, is a different proposition to last season’s, and it was they who opened the game playing the brighter football.
The movement of their central three midfielders, orchestrated by Wes Hoolahan, caused Chelsea a few problems and it took a characteristically brace block from Gary Cahill to prevent Robert Snodgrass’s 10th minute drive giving them the lead.
The Blues were offering little in response, two David Luiz drives from 30 yards, which flew a similar distance over the bar, were our only efforts in the opening 25 minutes
Despite the tidier style of play, Norwich are still a physical outfit, and were proving a handful for Chelsea’s youngsters. Ocsar, Mata and Victor Moses were all on the periphery for long periods, but Chelsea would slowly come more into the game as the first half wore on.
The turning point seemed to be when David Luiz nicked it off Hoolahan with a little brute strength, and we immediately looked more dangerous. The Brazilian’s threaded through ball allowed Mata the chance to shoot, his effort skimming the side-netting on the way wide. From 12 yards, the Spaniard might have expected to do better.
Mikel rifled very narrowly over from the edge of the box as Chelsea began to take command, and after seeing one shot blocked inside the box, Mata drove us in front from outside it.
Patient build-up from Oscar eventually found Mata in a little space, and despite an awkward body position, he bent the ball into the far corner with a sweetly-struck drive.
Bradley Johnson headed over shortly afterwards as Norwich searched for a quick equaliser, but Chelsea looked in control at the break after resisting the Norfolk side’s bright start.
Just a couple of minutes into the second half Moses twice almost put Chelsea two in front, the first time bringing some quick reflexes from Mark Bunn in the Norwich goal at his near post before a more powerful effort was well held by the stopper.
Mata’s quick free-kick almost caught Bunn out while at the other end Norwich’s Anthony Pilkington twisted and turned before scuffing his shot.
Back on the attack, Moses could have put us clear of danger after bringing down Azpilicueta’s deep cross and smashing low, but like Mata in the first half he was just off target.
Lampard’s introduction as a sub provided Chelsea with some leadership in the centre of the field, and as time wore on the hosts looked less and less likely to steal an equaliser, their tidy and patient style becoming ever more hurried and direct.
The veteran combined with Torres and fellow sub Hazard to almost kill the game, the Belgian’s shot well saved by the advanced Bunn.
That would be our final chance, though Ashley Cole had to divert over his own crossbar as Norwich applied some late pressure,before Sebastien Bassong headed over the bar at the death.
And so despite the heavy Norfolk rainfall, there is nothing but festive cheer for the Chelsea faithful. A Christmas bonus came with the late introduction of Dutch teenager Nathan Ake for a first-team debut.
A win at Everton on Sunday would round off the year we became European Champions very well indeed.
Norwich City (4-5-1): Bunn; R Martin, Turner, Bassong, Garrido; Snodgrass, Hoolahan (E Bennett 88), Tettey, Johnson (Howson 80), Pilkington (Morison 78); Holt (c).
Unused subs Rudd, Jackson, R Bennett, L Barnett.
Booked Johnson 80
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilcueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Cole; David Luiz, Mikel (Lampard 73); Moses (Hazard 78), Mata (Ake 90), Oscar; Torres.
Unused subs Turnbull, Ferreira, Ake, Marin, Piazon.
Goals Mata 38
Booked Hazard 90
Referee Jonathan Moss