Carrow Road, Norwich
15:00 hrs GMT; 26th Dec, 2012
So the ‘Rafalution’ seems to be affecting Stamford Bridge as the Londoners registered their second league win under Benitez and looked to be in scintillating form while they achieved it. Since their return from the disappointing Club World Cup campaign in Japan, Chelsea have put five past Leeds in the Capital One Cup and ripped apart Aston Villa at home in a convincing 8 – 0 win which saw 7 different players find the back of the net for the Blues.
The reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge saw the Canaries lose to Chelsea 4 – 1 at a time when manager Chris Hughton’s credentials were under serious threat. However, in eleven league games since then, Norwich City have just lost once and stand 10th in the table with 25 points. And for now anyway, thoughts of relegation to the championship seem to be a distant memory. With 20 games left to go in the season, one would think that Norwich City will reach, and possibly surpass the magic total of 40 points needed to avoid relegation.
The boxing day atmosphere lends a special touch to proceedings at Carrow Road Stadium.
Team News And Tactical Brief
Unfortunately for Chris Hughton’s men, their last game against West Bromwich Albion(another team that has been a constant source of surprise this season), ended their 10 game unbeaten run and is the only defeat they have faced after they lost at Stamford Bridge to Chelsea back in October. Their main man Grant Holt was missing in action against West Brom with a hamstring injury sustained during their league fixture against Wigan and it looks the captain is likely to miss the boxing day fixture as well. Chelsea scored 8 goals past Aston Villa but the Norwich City of now is likely to be an extremely different kind of test altogether.
Their back four of Steven Whittaker, Sebastian Bassong, Micheal Turner and Javier Garrido were crucial in their 10 game unbeaten run and have only conceded more than one goal in their 3–4 win against Swansea. Midfielder Alex Tettey shields the defence excellently and is likely to be partnered in the centre by Wesley Hoolahan. Striker Steve Morrison will be supported by Anthony Pilkington while Robert Snodgrass and Bradley Johnson will man the flanks for Norwich City. First choice keeper John Ruddy is likely to remain out until February through injury but Norwich do possess an able deputy in keeper Mark Bunn whom they acquired from Blackburn.
They will set up to make it very difficult for Chelsea to score and will have enough firepower to burn Chelsea on the counter attack, in form of players like Snodgrass, Johnson, Pilkington and Morrison. Considering their impressive run has ended, the Canaries will be keen not to succumb to another defeat. Keeping that in mind, even a draw would make it a worthy point for the Carrow Road team.
Predicted Line Up – Bunn, Whittaker, Bassong, Turner, Garrido, Tettey, Hoolahan, Snodgrass, Johnson, Pilkington, Morrison.
Rafael Benitez sprung a surprise when he deployed the adventurous David Luiz in the Chelsea midfield against Aston Villa. Many of the Chelsea faithful see it as a future position for the swashbuckling centre back, however there is a genuine doubt about his holding midfield capabilities considering his erratic positioning and general recklessness. Luiz also wasn’t tested much by a Villa team that found itself three goals down by the 34th minute. However, in midfielder John Obi Mikel’s absence through suspension, Chelsea lack a steadying influence in midfield and therefore it looks like the curly haired Brazilian is likely to feature there for a while.
One player who has found life difficult under Rafael Benitez is Oscar. Chelsea’s more direct approach and aggressive transitions from defence to attack seems to have found the young Brazilian lacking. He is not one to shirk hard work and is equally blessed with technicality and flair, but Oscar could also be the sacrificial pawn as Benitez attempts to get a grip upon the senior voices of the dressing room. The Brazilian number 10 is likely to start against Norwich on Tuesday though, as one out of Moses or Juan Mata will be rested given the hectic schedule.
The defence could see Ryan Bertrand play at left back as Ashley Cole played the full 90 against Aston Villa. But barring that, Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic look set to register a start against Norwich City.
Predicted Line Up – Cech, Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, Bertrand, Ramires, Lampard, Oscar, Hazard, Mata, Torres.
Man To Watch
Has to be Torres no? Rafael Benitez claimed he has sorted out the Torres conundrum; and if numbers don’t depict the whole picture, his opening goal against Aston Villa certainly did. The spotlight is back on Torres again and for those who do believe in the numbers game – he’s scored seven goals in six games under Benitez. There is a long way to go before Torres redeems himself in the eyes of the world and more importantly, of the Chelsea support, but there is focus on him because this is most certainly his last chance at redemption at Chelsea. And those who follow his game are keen to see if he can get back to the Fernando Torres of old who terrorized defenders despite his very limited skill set.
Norwich City 1 – 2 Chelsea
Tired legs and sharp tactical minds to conjure up a hard fought victory for the visitors here. Norwich will be desperate to avoid a defeat at home and respond to their weekend loss against the Baggies which means that they will set up to not concede. However with Chelsea in such a rampant mood, you could bet your bottom dollar on the Blues getting two goals at the very least. Do Norwich have enough about them to score? Their recent results show that they do have a goal in them even against the big sides, and despite Chelsea having found more balance under Benitez, there is a feeling that the Blues aren’t at their defensive best just yet. There are mistakes in the side and a goal for Norwich at home is a possibility.
Blast From The Past