Chelsea grabbed a huge three points in their bid to secure Champions League qualification for next season, sneaking past already relegated Norwich 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.
The hosts unsurprisingly enjoyed the better of the first half and after Christian Pulisic and Kurt Zouma both went close for the Blues, Olivier Giroud gave Chelsea the lead with a close-range header just before the break.
Pulisic and Marcos Alonso then drew smart saves out of Norwich goalkeeper Tim Krul in the second period as Chelsea pushed, but failed, to score a second.
Norwich, however, were just as poor as the hosts and were unable to test Kepa Arrizabalaga in the closing stages, allowing the hosts to ease to a slender win.
Here’s 90min‘s review of the game.
Key Talking Point
A vital three points in their race for the top-four, and although results may well take precedent over performances at this stage of the campaign, Chelsea were once again unconvincing using a 4-3-3 – with their struggles against a deeper block continuing.
A lack of vertical options and presence of blue shirts between the lines ensured the hosts had a tough time progressing the ball centrally, although width provided by the full-backs – particularly Alonso – did give the Blues an avenue to create in the final third as wingers Pulisic and Willian drifted infield.
Delivery from the flanks was often sub-par, however, and overall the Blues were rarely able to sustain any pressure on a vulnerable Norwich defence and retain possession in the opposition third.
There was a lack of structural cohesion and innovative build-up play, with this sort of performance resembling the turgid ‘Sarriball ‘which was often on display last season. This is a flawed Chelsea side, flaws which are exacerbated by using such a system against this sort of opposition. Lampard simply has to ditch it going forward and save it for ‘top-six’ encounters.
Starting XI: Kepa (6); Azpilicueta (6), Rudiger (7), Zouma (6), Alonso (6); Jorginho (4), Kovacic (5), Loftus-Cheek (5); Willian (6), Giroud (6), Pulisic (7*).
Subs: Barkley (6), James (6), Hudson-Odoi (6), Abraham (N/A)
While the American was hardly the star of the show, he was certainly the brightest spark in a pretty dire display from the hosts.
His crafty movement infield meant he was able to pick up possession in dangerous areas and drive at the Norwich defence, but the efficient end product which has so often been on display since the restart wasn’t quite there on Tuesday night.
Nevertheless, his superb cross from the left set-up Giroud for the game’s only goal, with his impact on this Chelsea side being one of the few positives Lampard can take out of it from a performance perspective.
Key Talking Point
There wasn’t a whole lot to make of this Norwich performance, to be honest.
In the opening exchanges, they were significantly second best and despite the best efforts of Onel Hernandez to add some thrust to a stagnant Canaries attack, the visitors rarely troubled the hosts’ backline, let alone Kepa in the Chelsea goal. Josip Drmic, meanwhile, cut a horrendously isolated figure as the lone front man.
They huffed and puffed a little more after the break; enjoying a little more possession – often to their detriment, however – and attempting to win the ball back off the Blues higher up the pitch. But there was no source of penetration and it was the sort of showing which epitomised just how inferior Daniel Farke’s side have been in the top-flight this term.
Starting XI: Krul (7*); Aarons (6), Godfrey (6), Klose (5), Lewis (6); Tettey (5), Cantwell (6), Rupp (5), McLean (6), Hernandez (6); Drmic (5).
Subs: Buendia (5), Pukki (5), Idah (6), Stiepermann (N/A), Martin (N/A)
With the Canaries offering very little on Tuesday night, their standout performer was quite comfortably goalkeeper Tim Krul.
The Dutchman could do little to keep out Giroud’s header from close range, but before that, he had smartly tipped Pulisic’s half-volley onto the crossbar and ensured the visitors remained in the contest in the second-half by saving well from the American once more and brilliantly sniffing out an Alonso header.
Chelsea’s final push for a Champions League spot starts with a trip to Anfield before hosting fellow contenders Wolves on the final day. The Blues also enjoy an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United at the weekend.
Norwich, meanwhile, host Burnley and visit Manchester City before returning to the Championship.