Not since August 29 — when the summer transfer window was still open — had the team that lifted the Premier League trophy last May been in the top half of this season’s table. An extraordinary statistic in this most unusual of seasons.
Chelsea’s start to this game was far from sluggish however - it took them just 39 seconds to take the lead, albeit against opponents who have been there for the taking for weeks and are now in the bottom three.
Eden Hazard put the home ranks in a panic with a direct run that saw yellow shirts back off and when the ball was switched left to Kenedy the Brazilian was able to evade a series of powder-puff challenges to plant a low drive across John Ruddy and into the far corner.
It was impossible to tell from such scant evidence but the suspicion was that Norwich, who had named three centre-backs in their starting line-up, had intended to stifle and hope.
To their credit, with Plan A ripped up already, they came at the champions but with the static Cameron Jerome their focal point up front chances were hard to come by.
Wes Hoolahan, as you would expect, got those little legs working overtime but Chelsea were rarely troubled in a half where referee Lee Mason increasingly became the man to watch.
The official booked Canaries duo Jonny Howson and Ryan Bennett for over-zealous challenges, which was fair enough, but when he allowed Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to pick up Gary Cahill’s back-pass and throw it to a colleague as though that was actually allowed, Carrow Road erupted in fury.
They were partially appeased by a yellow card shown to Oscar for hacking Hoolahan down from behind but the half ended in controversy when Costa made it 2-0 in stoppage time.
Bertrand Traore, making his first Chelsea start, sent the Brazilian away as Norwich were caught out from a throw and his lofted finish over Ruddy was top class. He was, however, offside and the linesman, despite seemingly being perfectly-placed, failed to spot it.
Norwich began the second half brightly and Jerome peeled away from his marker at the back post to volley narrowly wide.
Nathan Redmond fired over before Jerome squandered a great chance to put the Canaries back in the game.
Hoolahan’s cross found Russell Martin at the back post and the Scotland international’s header was perfect for the striker right in front of goal but somehow Jerome’s volley hit the top of the bar rather than the net. Jerome was the man who scored his side’s winner at Manchester United but that was shocking finishing from a Premier League front-man.
Chelsea felt they could afford a double substitution, with Mikel and Willian replacing Oscar and Traore on the hour mark. Norwich threw on an extra attacker in Dieumerci Mbokani, with centre-back Bennett the man sacrificed.
Norwich continued where they had left off and so did Jerome, who failed to hit the target with a header.
The Canaries refused to give in however and Hoolahan’s clever pass put Nathan Redmond in a position to fire past Courtois from the right of the box in the 68th minute.
Chelsea had been pretty tepid since going two up and found themselves under constant pressure, with Fabregas booked for fouling Redmond and Jerome diverting Robbie Brady’s shot, forcing Courtois into a save.
Brady was hurt in a clash of heads that also involved team-mate Gary O’Neil and Chelsea’s Willian. Claret was spilt by both Norwich men, with O’Neil returning to the fray with a massive pink bandage round his head.
Norwich pressed to the end and Redmond fired a low drive past Courtois but into the side-netting. Costa put a great chance to wrap up victory wide after Fabregas had beaten the offside trap but despite five frantic added minutes the score remained the same.
“We have now won a few games in a row, which gives satisfaction of course,” said Guus Hiddink.
“I think we were a bit sloppy in the finishing in the first half. We had a splendid start through Kenedy, a beautiful goal, but after that we had some options to get a second. We did in the end, but we should have killed it off already by then. I’m satisfied with the result, but I like to be critical that we didn’t finish it off early.”
Ruddy 6; Bennett 7 (Mbokani 60, 6), Martin 7, Klose 6, Pinto 5, Tettey 5 (O’Neil 36, 5), Howson 6, Brady 6; Redmond 6, Hoolahan 7; Jerome 3.
Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 7, Ivanovic 7, Cahill 7, Kenedy 8; Fabregas 7, Matic 7; Traore 7 (Willian 60, 6), Oscar 7 (Mikel 60 6), Hazard 7; Costa 7. Subs (not used): Begovic, Rahman, Loftus-Cheek, Pato, Remy.
Lee Mason 6