Mata makes the difference

Frank Lampard may be leaving Stamford Bridge for a new career elsewhere, with Los Angeles the most likely destination, but Juan Mata has made it clear you can still expect the Chelsea midfield to contribute plenty of goals in the future.

This game was the Spaniard’s 50th for Chelsea in the Premier League and he marked it with his 13th goal in that competition. Throw in an additional 20 assists for a side that won its previous game 8-0 and you have statistics that Lampard, on his way out either next month or at the end of the season, according to who you believe (the latter seems much more likely), would be pleased to possess.

“The Premier League has a lot of good players and Mata is one of the best for sure,” said manager Rafa Benitez after his side had cut the gap between his side and second-placed Manchester City to four points. “Even without the ball he is working really hard and when we are in possession he is making a difference. He has clever movements. He can play deeper, can go to the right into spaces and that is hard for defenders to manage. He is a player who has mobility.”

It cannot be denied, however, that the first 38 minutes of this match were extremely forgettable, although Chelsea could legitimately claim that they had been the only side trying to lift the occasion out of mediocrity.

Petr Cech enjoyed a leisurely afternoon and was not required to make a single save. Indeed, he didn’t even have to take a goal-kick when Norwich midfielder Alex Tettey let fly early on; that effort ended up going out for a throw-in.

It took Chelsea a while to register a reply themselves however and when it came, it was also of inferior quality — an orbital long-ranger from David Luiz. The Brazilian, deployed as a defensive midfielder these days, had another go soon after and was only marginally less distant from the crossbar.

Mata was guilty of sliding a decent chance at the back post into the side-netting before John Obi Mikel, back from his three-game ban for abusing referee Mark Clattenburg in October, fired over from the edge of the penalty area.

It was a game that was crying out for a moment of quality and Mata answered the distress call seven minutes before the break. The Spaniard received a short pass from Oscar in front of a well-stocked Norwich area, took a touch to create a little space and then curled the ball past Mark Bunn, the Norwich goalkeeper, with his left foot.

It was no surprise either that this was destined to remain the game’s sole moment to savour. Norwich continued to find the Chelsea back-line impenetrable, apart from an exchange of passes between Wes Hoolahan and Grant Holt early on, and a header from Sebastien Bassong in stoppage time. But Holt missed the former (he was offside anyway) and Bassong saw his header rear off the turf and go over, and the majority of the chances were again Chelsea’s.

Bunn was equal to the best of those however, rushing out to deny Eden Hazard, the substitute, following a back-heel from Fernando Torres, his only contribution of note.

So Norwich’s impressive record of beating Champions League sides in front of their own fans came to a halt as Chelsea refused to go the same way as Arsenal and Manchester United. It will be interesting to see how Manchester City fare at Carrow Road on Saturday but Chris Hughton is a manager who knows he has made a useful start to the campaign.

“There’s no points target, its about producing what we did in the first half of the season when we started slowly and then went on a good run,” he said. “We know what we have to do to get the points that we need.”

NORWICH CITY (4-4-1-1): Bunn 7; R. Martin 7, Turner 7, Bassong 7, Garrido 7; Snodgrass 6, Johnson 6 (Howson 81), Tettey 6, Pilkington 6 (Morison 79); Hoolahan 5 (E Bennett 89); Holt 5.

Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech 6; Azpilicueta 7, Ivanovic 7, Cahill 7, Cole 7; Luiz 7, Mikel 7 (Lampard 73, 6); Moses 6 (Hazard 79), Oscar 6, Mata 8 (Ake 90); Torres 6.

Referee: Jon Moss.


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