London: Chelsea have maintained their recent run of good form thanks to a fairly comfortable 1-0 win at Norwich City on Boxing Day, gaining ground on Manchester City in the process.
The hosts started the game well, enjoying lots of possession, but their inability to carve open chances saw them pay as Juan Mata gave Rafa Benitez’s side the lead just before half-time.
Chelsea’s control continued after the break, forcing Norwich to play on the counterattack, but with neither side creating too many opportunities, a bag of goals never looked likely.
Despite the rather hectic Christmas period, both sides made just the two changes. For Norwich, Steven Whittaker and Steve Morison dropped out for Russell Martin and Grant Holt.
On the back of their 8-0 hammering of Aston Villa at the weekend, John Obi Mikel and Oscar replaced Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard for Chelsea.
The first half was a very tightly-contested affair, but Norwich certainly began the more promising, stringing together a good number of passes in the Chelsea half, but the visitors’ defence remained solid.
Norwich looked to have a good chance when Chelsea poorly cleared a Javier Garrido cross, but Alex Tettey’s half volley was horribly sliced and it went out for a throw-in, while the visitors soon managed an effort, but Juan Mata put his shot wide from six-yards.
Around the half-hour mark Chelsea began to take control as Mata started to get himself involved a little more, but they were still struggling to create chances with Norwich defending well.
However, in the 38th minute Oscar did well to retain possession in the centre before finding Mata on the edge of the box, and the Spaniard smashed an effort into the far side of the net to open the scoring.
Bradley Johnson saw a near-post header go just over a few minutes later, but Chelsea went into half-time with a 1-0 goal lead which they probably deserved.
The second half just seemed to carry on from the first period as Chelsea controlled possession and looked comfortable, knocking the ball around in a confident manner, while Norwich attempted to spring counterattacks.
Hoolahan seemed Norwich’s best bet of getting back into the game, but often the only pass on for him was forward to Grant Holt, but either the Chelsea defence would halt the forward, or he strayed offside.
The visitors continued to control the match, but for all their possession they could not get past the Norwich defence, much like their hosts in the first period.
Benitez’s decision to introduce Lampard and Hazard helped create a bit more dynamism in the final third and Mata could have got his second as he headed just wide from an Azpilicueta cross.