independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Di Matteo delight after Blues keep eye on target

At least Chelsea are getting things right on the pitch. A week in which the fallout from the John Terry race case contaminated the club even further concluded with a gleaming victory against a Norwich City side that took the lead before being blown away. The European champions' style in other regards is questionable but the increased panache with which they are playing is pleasing.

Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo has spoken constantly since the start of the season of his determination to rotate his squad to preserve the team at full freshness for the arduous campaign ahead, but he clearly felt no need to shield two of his most senior players from the intense scrutiny that they are currently under, as both Terry and Ashley Cole started.

The publication on Friday of the FA disciplinary panel's justification for finding Terry guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand -- which included the suggestion that unreliable evidence from Cole helped cover up the offence -- has not diminished the pair's standing at Stamford Bridge.

Terry retained the captaincy, the large banner reading 'JT captain, leader, legend' was displayed as prominently as ever and when each player's names were announced before kick-off, the boos of Norwich fans were drowned out by worshipful cheers from the blue-clad faithful.

Chelsea's opponents, however, did not seem so eager to give them an easy ride. Holt evaded Terry in the 11th minute to open the scoring with a fine goal, firing the ball into the net from 10 yards after Leon Barnett nodded a fine Wes Hoolahan cross into his path.

The slickness of that goal contrasted alarmingly with Norwich's chaotic defending. Within three minutes Chelsea were level. Juan Mata backheeled the ball to Branislav Ivanovic, who clipped it towards the six-yard box, where Fernando Torres was allowed to head it unchallenged into the net. The Spaniard had squandered a clear chance in the second minute, his lack of confidence leading him to hesitate long enough for Sebastien Bassong to win the ball back, but the goal emboldened the Chelsea striker.

An extravagant overhead kick attempt by him was blocked by Bradley Johnson in the 22nd minute but the ball broke to Frank Lampard, who dispatched it emphatically from the edge of the box.

The tricky trio of Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard now took charge, embroidering fluent moves with gorgeous touches. Norwich were frequently beguiled, even if they did still pose intermittent threats going forward, Alexander Tettey even spurning a great chance to plunder a second goal when he headed way off target after neat work down the right by Hoolahan and Russell Martin.

Mata created Chelsea's third, running 40 yards before slipping a perfectly-timed pass to Hazard, who slotted past John Ruddy to make it 3-1.

Cole, John Obi Mikel and Oscar all came close to aggravating the damage before Holt gave a reminder that Chelsea could not afford to switch off, heading just wide after a cross by Johnson.

The striker repeated the warning in the second minute of the second half, leaping high above Terry to send another header inches wide.

Ruddy had to dive at the feet of Mata in the 58th minute to prevent Chelsea extending their lead after another cutting move by the hosts.

Having established almost total control by now, Chelsea turned down the urgency of their approach. With victory apparently secured, enjoying themselves became the priority. As their intricacy quotient increased, they became less clinical. That surely spared Norwich a more severe beating.

Ivanovic, however, did deliver another blow in the 77th minute, ramming a fierce shot into the net from 10 yards after Mata had teed him up.

That was the third league goal of the season for a defender who, as much as anyone else, reflects the new flamboyance with which Chelsea strive to play. They now lead the Premier League by four points.

"Our start shows we are able to blank things out that are surrounding us externally and focus on our target and job, which is to win matches," said Di Matteo. "It's proven how professional the group is."

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