Norwich City vs. Chelsea: 6 Things We Learned
Many were expecting a feast of goals from this Boxing Day fixture between Norwich City and Chelsea at Carrow Road. The Blues had comprehensively beaten Norwich City 4-1 in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge and had just equaled their record highest victory in the Premier League with an 8-0 win over Aston Villa.
Norwich City had had their 10-game unbeaten run ended at the hands of West Bromwich Albion and were looking to bounce back straight away.
Instead of a thrilling, all-out attacking match, spectators were handed a fairly dull display of cautious passing play, with the majority of shots from both sides, including Chelsea's solitary goal of the match, coming from outside the area.
Here are six things we learned from Chelsea's 1-0 win.
1. Juan Mata Is the Key to This Chelsea Side
The tiny midfielder scored his 15th goal of the season so far and was the pivot in the attacking midfield. All passing moves seem to involve him, and he pops up in a more defensive position when needed.
He has been playing non-stop since the end of last season, going from the Champions League Final to Euro 2012, to the Olympics and finally to preseason with Chelsea. This will eventually take its toll, but while Oscar and Eden Hazard are great, whether or not they can be the key player that Mata is remains to be seen.
2. Victor Moses Gives an Extra Dimension to the Chelsea Attack
Moses started the season playing for Wigan Athletic, and his transfer to Chelsea was one that baffled a lot of fans. Sure, he was good at Wigan, but could he play at the level required by the Champions of Europe?
Apparently he can. Whilst the Oscar-Mata-Hazard triumverite in midfield has become the go-to starting position, they have a tendency to all go down the middle of the pitch, leaving the flanks unexploited and exposed on the counter. Moses, and a fit Marko Marin, allow for width and can drop back to protect the full backs if necessary.
This adds an important extra dimension to Chelsea's attack and creates space for others to run into.
3. Chelsea Still Need Another Striker
With Daniel Sturridge merely crossing the days off the calendar until he can leave Stamford Bridge for Liverpool, Fernando Torres will be the only striker left at Chelsea. He has scored more goals so far this season than in the entire of last season, but the thought of leaving him as the one and only striker, with no possible backup, is terrifying.
He looks tired, and despite playing the full 90 minutes against Norwich City, recently, he has vanished from the game before the first half is over. Having a top-drawer striker to cover him is just common sense. We also have to remember that he has had a long running injury battle with his knee. What if he knocks it and is out for months?
If Chelsea don't act in the January window and bring in someone in the mold of Falcao or Javier Hernandez, they could find this mini revival in form very short-lived.
4. David Luiz Is More Useful in Midfield Than at Centre-Half
David Luiz was moved to the defensive midfield position for the Club World Cup semifinal against Monterrey and received glowing praise for his performance. His defending was cited as one of the main problems with Chelsea, along with Fernando Torres' lack of goals, and his critics were largely right.
Luiz has a tendency to run off with the ball, which is not a trait you really want from your centre back. When he got caught out upfield, there was a gaping hole in the back four for the opposition to exploit.
Playing a defensive midfield role allows him to use his skills as a defender whilst still giving him the option to go forward, as there are four players behind him to clear up any mistakes he might make.
In the match with Norwich City, he was frequently shooting at goal from outside the box, albeit high and wide.
5. Chelsea Need to Back Down and Offer Ashley Cole a Proper Contract
Chelsea FC have a policy of not offering players over 30 years of age contracts exceeding one year in length. There is pragmatism to this approach, as once players cross that age threshold, their careers are likely to be winding down, they'll need more time to recover from games and injuries will take longer to heal.
However, the flaw in this policy is that the club face losing one of the best left backs in the world on a free transfer. Frank Lampard is another player who is struggling to agree terms for a new deal despite making it clear he wants to finish his career with Chelsea.
Here's the rub. If you presented me with Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole and told me that one could stay but the other had to go, I would have to let Lampard go.
It would be incredibly sad to say goodbye a player who has given 11 years of his career to Chelsea, scored 20 goals a season from midfield year on year and played a massive part in making the team as successful as they have been.
But there's cover for him. Chelsea's midfield is packed with talent, and losing Lampard would be more of an emotional loss than a detriment to the squad.
This is not the case with Ashley Cole.
The Chelsea and England left back is always there when you need him. The number of goal line clearances and important interceptions that he makes game in, game out are vital to the squad, and losing him would weaken the side considerably.
Ryan Bertrand is not yet ready to replace him, but with a few more years working closely with Cole, he could well step up. The thing is, we'll never know unless Roman Abramovich admits that his policy is flawed, pulls his finger out and offers Cole the three-year deal he's looking for.
6. Chelsea Can Still Challenge for the Title
A few weeks ago, Chelsea looked down and out of everything. The gap between themselves and the two Manchester clubs was widening, the squad looked disjointed and unhappy and they became the first Champions League winners to end their title defence at the group stage.
The break in Japan, despite the fact they came away empty handed, seems to have done them good. They are still in the Capital One Cup and have a game in hand over United and City. They have shown that they can score goals at will, as well as comfortably control a game at their leisure. Both of those are qualities exhibited by sides that go on to win a big trophy.
The Red Devils' luck can't hold out forever though, and if their defence continues to leak goals, there is every chance that Chelsea could find themselves back in the top two by the end of January.