Tuesday 20 August 2019

Mourinho dares to look ahead to new mission

Chelsea 1-0 Norwich City

Chelsea striker Diego Costa celebrates after scoring in the win over Norwich City at Stamford Bridge yesterday
Chelsea striker Diego Costa celebrates after scoring in the win over Norwich City at Stamford Bridge yesterday
Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic vies with Norwich City's Irish midfielder Wes Hoolahan
Jose Mourinho gestures from the sideline

Dion Fanning

This was as routine as things get in the ongoing drama at Chelsea. Diego Costa scored the game's only goal and there was something fitting in that. Mourinho's side have played well recently and got nothing so perhaps it was just that Costa, after a terrible performance, provided the winner.

Costa had spent most of the afternoon doing the wrong things but, here he was, delivering the goal Chelsea needed. He hadn't scored since Chelsea beat Aston Villa a month ago and the pressure could be seen yesterday.

"Every game you don't score goals you get heavier, you have 5kgs more," Mourinho said later. "It was important for him. It was important for us but if I had to choose somebody to score the winning goal, it would be him."

Mourinho admitted that Costa's lack of goals had affected his fluency. "He can do much better but one goal is very important."

Costa improved after his goal and he stayed out of trouble all day. "He's not responding to provocations and is behaving well," his manager said. Others had been more important for Chelsea. Eden Hazard was devastating while Nemanja Matic dominated in midfield like it was 2014.

Last winter's charge to the title feels like a long time ago. It is too soon to say that this was evidence of Chelsea edging slowly back to their best because there were also signs of their frailties and worries.

Mourinho said their performance deserved more goals and he had a point but, without that cushion, Chelsea became nervous in the final seconds.

Alex Neil's side had lost four of their last five league games which is usually the kind of record that results in teams turning up to Stamford Bridge and shuffling onto the pitch before exiting with a 2-0 defeat.

Except Chelsea had also lost four of their last five league games. At the moment, there aren't many teams who approach Stamford Bridge with a sense of dread and Norwich competed as best they could for much of the game.

"If we get the chance or get the penalty, it has a big impact for both teams," Neil said later as he reflected on a Sebastien Bassong opportunity before half-time and a Willian tangle with Robbie Brady.

If Norwich had taken the lead, Chelsea would have been more nervous but they had started brightly. Hazard appeared to be refreshed, running menacingly at Norwich from kick-off, setting up Cesc Fabregas, and later Willian during an opening 20 minutes which looked like a fair contest between two well-matched teams.

Wes Hoolahan was on the bench for Norwich but Brady started and he had a characteristic first half as he gave the ball away too easily at times but also linked well when Norwich attacked.

Brady should probably have had a penalty when Willian charged into him just inside the box. Neil was certain on the sideline and unburdened himself to the fourth official. Mourinho, as officious these days as a parking warden, looked as if he was tempted to intervene.

In general, Chelsea could take encouragement from the performance but they could have said that quite a lot recently. What they needed was a victory and for an hour it looked as if would be harder to come by while Diego Costa continued to give an impression of Mario Balotelli.

With every chance wasted, Costa looked more disengaged. Sometimes he was simply not where he should have been. When crosses came in, he was lingering on the edge of the area and when the ball did reach him, he reacted slowly, on one occasion allowing John Ruddy to close him down when a Kenedy ball landed at his feet.

Chelsea demanded a penalty when Sebastien Bassong barged into him but they didn't get one.

The second half had a familiar air. Costa, at least, seemed at peace, reaching his hand out towards Bassong after one tangle but the crowd groaned when another cross went across the box.

Chelsea then got a break and maybe they think they haven't got many of those recently. Norwich gave away a free-kick on the halfway line and allowed Fabregas to take it quickly. With Bassong out of position, Chelsea broke forward. The ball reached Costa who cut inside Ryan Bennett and curled the ball into the far corner of the net.

"We are staying up," the Chelsea fans chanted and who would doubt it now. Kurt Zouma hit the bar and Mourinho's side looked in control.

Brady's shot from 20 yards was tipped wide by Asmir Begovic. Chelsea seemed assured but in the final minutes, things changed.

They became anxious as Norwich launched balls into the box. "We didn't deserve the heartbeat of the last four minutes. We deserve to be enjoying it but we couldn't," Mourinho said.

When the final whistle went, the crowd roared with relief. Chelsea moved above Norwich into fifteenth. "Fourth is not an impossible mission," Mourinho insisted. "The title I would say is an impossible mission. Maybe Tom Cruise can do it for us."

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