Olivier Giroud's first-half header moved Chelsea four points adrift of Leicester City as Frank Lampard's side defeated Norwich City 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.
The opening 45 minutes saw much of possession held in the Canaries’ half as the Blues looked to break down Daniel Farke’s defensive barrier. Giroud soon made the breakthrough nodding the ball past Tim Krul.
Chelsea ploughed on in search of a second but soon settled for a one goal lead after a pedestrian and anti-climatic second-half. The South West London side now look ahead to clashes against Liverpool and Wolves as their Champions League fate is all but decided.
Story of the match
The home side began the game on the front foot, dominating much of possession in the Norwich half before Marcos Alonso’s daisy-cutter cross zipped across the six-yard box. Unfortunately for Lampard’s side, Alonso’s pass failed to find the intended target.
Chelsea’s new £33 million signing from Ajax, Hakim Ziyech, watched on from the stands as the Blues continued to plug away in search of a foothold. Jorginho pulled the strings in the heart of midfield meanwhile Kurt Zouma and Antonio Rudiger acted as garden sprinklers, distributing clipped passes into the fullbacks.
Just moments after the first-half water break, Zouma brought the ball forward and drove into the Canaries’ defensive third. The French centre half then threaded a ball through the away side’s backline finding Alonso. The left-back whipped an early ball across goal into the path of Christian Pulisic before the American’s effort pounded the side-netting.
Having struggled to find an element of quality in the final third, Pulisic came closest striking the cross bar. Ruidger slipped a lofted pass into the Norwich box from deep allowing the American winger to pluck the ball out of the air. Pluck, touch and turn. Chelsea’s star man of late, span on the spot striking the ball goal bound before Krul tipped the ball onto the crossbar.
Alonso looked to try his luck as he showcased his attacking acumen. The ball fell to the 29-year-old just outside the box as he proceeded to take aim. His effort deflected wide winning the Blues a corner.
Like a team of miners, the Blues kept digging away. Lampard’s side felt as if they were minutes away from an opening goal, their treasure, and so they were.
Krul was left helpless as Giroud put the Blues in front after nodding in a dangerous Pulisic cross from the left wing. The 21-year-old winger stood up Todd Cantwell before gliding past the young midfielder onto his favoured right foot with ease and flair. Pulisic then dispatched a delightful cross, meanwhile a bullish Giroud beat Timm Klose to the ball.
The second half began in similar fashion to the dawn of the first. Slow and pedestrian. However, now, with a number of rash tackles which saw the likes of Cantwell and Mateo Kovacic yellow carded by Johnathon Moss.
Just one goal ahead and looking to lead by example, Cesar Azpilicueta offered his hand in a bid to double his side’s lead. A loose ball dropped to the SW6 veteran as he cut inside onto his weaker left foot before guiding his effort just inches too high.
Chelsea’s one nil lead was balancing on a tightrope and Lampard was in desperate need of a second to calm some nerves.
The Blues came close with just two minutes to spare. Second-half substitute Reece James fizzed in a low cross, similar to that of Alonso’s in the opening minutes, but no one was able to make two ends meet.
VAVEL Man of the Match
VAVEL’s Man of the Match goes to Pulisic. He was persistent in his play and always looked to drive forward and create chances. The American added an assist to his seasonal tally totalling 18 direct goal involvements in 31 games.