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May 052014
Screenshot 2014 05 04 23.00.28 Chelsea Drawing Norwich at Home Epitomizes Their Season

Eden Hazard looks imploringly at referee Neil Swarbrick after being tripped in the area.

Brace yourself.  You are about to be inundated with melancholy laments about a Chelsea season that could have been so many things but, in the end, will likely result in nothing.  Bear with me – I’m not going to rattle off each and every negative moment in this season ultimately culminating in the lackluster display from this afternoon at Stamford Bridge.  Still, there are certainly a few parallels to be drawn.  Games like this draw against Norwich City have defined Chelsea’s season.  To be fair, I never expected Chelsea to be one loss away from the Champions League final, or two home wins away from being a serious contender for the Premier League title.

Screenshot 2014 05 04 13.25.21 Chelsea Drawing Norwich at Home Epitomizes Their Season

Updated Barclays Premier League Table Week 37

Premier League winners rarely lose more than six games a season.  It stands to reason, then, that Premier League title challengers should not drop points to weaker opposition.  Don’t worry, I’m fully aware of the saying: “In football, anybody can beat anybody.”  But statistically speaking, there is a higher probability of losing to a strong team.  Teams with less talent can anticipate losing 15-20 games a season while still remaining in the league, yet teams with title aspirations can only afford to drop so many points before they are numerically ruled out of contention.  For example, many were writing Manchester United off as title contenders when, nearing the Christmas holiday, the reigning champions were floundering in 7th position.

While they may not have had the same issues as their Mancunian rivals, Chelsea have had their fair share of slip-ups this season, highlighted by losses to teams they should be beating.  The Blues are currently in third position having played 37 matches – one more than second place Liverpool and first place Manchester City.  In what is always a crucial part of the season, Chelsea have won just three of their last six premier league matches, losing to Sunderland and Crystal Palace – both of whom are fighting to avoid relegation.  Notably, Chelsea’s last three losses in the Premier League came in matches directly preceding a Champions League fixture.  It would appear that the Blues have developed a habit of overlooking opponents in the league in order to concentrate on “more important” competitions like the Champions League.  Nevertheless, as NBC Sports Premier League match commentator Arlo White said during Chelsea’s final home match, the fans, and players as well, were “holding onto a glimmer of hope” that perhaps their dreams of lifting the Premier League trophy could be kept alive.

Screenshot 2014 05 05 00.13.33 Chelsea Drawing Norwich at Home Epitomizes Their Season

André Schürrle strikes a low shot that beats John Ruddy but not the post.

A bright start had many Chelsea fans feeling optimistic, as André Schürrle came close to scoring just two minutes into the match.  The German looked lively.  His movement off of the ball, often infield, allowed a marauding Ashley Cole to overlap his positions successfully.  It also forced at least one Norwich City central defender to be wary of his runs, and this enabled Demba Ba to receive the ball in more 1-v-1 situations.  Unfortunately, the Chelsea attacks were fairly disjointed, lacking the cut and thrust necessary to break down a stalwart Norwich defense.  As the Blues committed more men forward, Norwich looked dangerous on the counter-attack.  Martin Olsson had a very legitimate penalty shout in the 11th minute after last ditch challenges by both Ashley Cole and John Terry left the young defender upended and appealing to referee Neil Swarbrick.  It was Schürrle who almost broke the deadlock in the 17th minute when he was played through by Nemanja Matic’s pinpoint pass, but he could only manage to hit the post after beating Norwich keeper John Ruddy.  The winger’s efforts were appreciated by an audibly nervy home crowd, who reminded their team that they had, in fact, remembered how to cheer.  Chelsea enjoyed a good spell of play until the break, dominating possession but creating few real chances.

Screenshot 2014 05 04 23.03.22 Chelsea Drawing Norwich at Home Epitomizes Their Season

John Terry appears to trip Martin Olsson in the area early on in Sunday’s match.

It is no secret that, with this current team, José Mourinho prefers to play a 4-2-3-1 formation.  The [2] in midfield operate in a double pivot – one player providing cover for the back [4], the other diverting traffic to the wide players or the more centrally located midfielder in the [3].  Today, and not for the first time, Mourinho chose to play Matic with Frank Lampard.  For an effective double pivot in midfield, one of the players needs to be creative.  And while they must both commit to defend and attack, it is helpful to have one player more defense-minded player and the other more attack-minded.  If this balance is not achieved, wing players are forced to drop deeper to receive the ball.  Norwich were set up well to combat Chelsea’s favored playing style, playing three across the midfield and stifling Matic and Lampard.  It also forced Mohamed Salah and André Schürrle to receive the ball in positions from where they were unlikely to pass anywhere but square or backwards.  Oftentimes, the Blues’ wingers would be 25-35 yards away from Demba Ba, making it nearly impossible to link up with the Senegalese striker.  Willian, Chelsea’s sole outlet for counter-attacks and link-up play between the midfielders and Demba Ba, struggled to find space between Norwich’s lines of defense.

Screenshot 2014 05 04 23.02.45 Chelsea Drawing Norwich at Home Epitomizes Their Season

Willian skips past Jonathan Howson. The Brazilian midfielder put in another tireless performance for the Blues.

Recognizing how little joy his team were getting in attack, Mourinho wasted no time in doing his best to rectify the situation.  Halftime substitutions saw David Luiz and Eden Hazard take the places of Frank Lampard and Mohamed Salah.  Their introduction had an immediate impact on the match.  Eden Hazard may have only played 45 minutes, but he had the most touches in the box of any player on the field at the final whistle.  His inclusion was infectious, and Chelsea would have been awarded a penalty if not for a questionable offside call in the same moment.

Screenshot 2014 05 04 23.06.10 Chelsea Drawing Norwich at Home Epitomizes Their Season

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard goes down under the late challenge of Norwich City’s Ryan Bennett (it was ultimately waved off due to offside).

David Luiz’s forays forward and lateral movement in midfield quickened the pace of Chelsea’s attack and prevented Norwich’s midfield three from trapping the ball in front of the Blues’ defenders.  It was Luiz who rattled Ruddy’s crossbar three minutes after the restart as Ivanovic angled a reverse pass from near the goal-line.  However, it was probably the Serbian’s best pass of the afternoon.

Screenshot 2014 05 04 23.04.17 Chelsea Drawing Norwich at Home Epitomizes Their Season

Branislav Ivanovic berates referee Neil Swarbrick after Eden Hazard was upended in the area.

Mourinho tried again to make an inventive substitution, bringing on Fernando Torres for Nemanja Matic with nearly 20 minutes left to play.  For the remainder of the match, Chelsea’s attacks were frantic – players occupying all open spaces in and around the box, but no final pass.  No clear cut chances.  No sense of inevitability despite their relentless pressure and overwhelming amounts of possession.  Cross after cross aimed at Ba or Torres (and sometimes Luiz, Cahill and Ivanovic) was headed, kicked or punched away by a resolute Norwich team.   This seems to be Chelsea’s most natural response in desperate times – endless whipped-in crosses to no one in particular.  Hoping.  Praying.  But with 71% possession and 23 shots against a team fighting to remain in the league, it seems those methods are unlikely to yield results.  Late in the match, Chelsea lost possession while pressing high up the field and Gary Cahill had to recover admirably in order to block Robert Snodgrass close-range effort on the counter.   I can only imagine that Roman Abramovich was watching with particular distaste, today.

Screenshot 2014 05 04 22.58.51 Chelsea Drawing Norwich at Home Epitomizes Their Season

Chelsea’s Gary Cahill makes a last-ditch challenge on Norwich City’s Robert Snodgrass.

When the final whistle blew, the players’ looks of frustration told the story of the afternoon.  Plenty of empty blue seats greeted their sheepish looks, but when the Blues came out to walk their Lap of Honor, they could not possibly have imagined they’d see the scene that greeted them.  To echo Greg Stobart, journalist for, “Not been the worst season has it??”

BmzolwuIcAAfxUs Chelsea Drawing Norwich at Home Epitomizes Their Season

[@gstobart]: Stamford Bridge not exactly packed to the rafters for the lap of honour. Not been the worst season has it? #CFC

Amadi Thiam

Senegalese-American journalism student. Fan of political science & international relations. Strong passion for writing about and playing the beautiful game. Bilingual. Recovering Drogbaholic. Licensed Youth Coach. I call it football, futbol and soccer. Follow me on twitter: @amadoit Find me on Soccerly at More of my writings:

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