Premier League: Norwich v Chelsea

Rafael Benitez

Benitez: Chelsea better organised

Norwich have won five consecutive Premier League matches at Carrow Road, but will face a tough time keeping that run going when they tackle Chelsea on Boxing Day (3pm GMT).

The Canaries are 10th in the table with 25 points from 18 matches and had been in the midst of a 10-match unbeaten run before falling to a 2-1 defeat away to West Brom on Saturday. New manager Chris Hughton struggled in the early weeks of the season as Norwich lost four of their first seven matches, but things improved once some of his late transfer window signings began to settle, resulting in the recently halted unbeaten run.

The most dramatic improvement was in defence. Norwich conceded 17 times in their first seven matches (2.43 per match, on average), but with the arrival of Sebastian Bassong and some re-organisation from Hughton, they conceded just 10 in their next 11 (0.91 per match).

This increased solidity has contributed greatly to Norwich’s excellent home form. Three clean sheets helped them to 1-0 victories over Arsenal, Stoke City and Manchester United, while they conceded just once in 2-1 wins over Sunderland and Wigan.

Alexander Tettey must also take some share of the credit. Signed from French side Rennes, the combative Norwegian midfielder has excelled as a robust shield in front of the back four. In his absence through injury, Norwich conceded three in a 4-3 win over Swansea and four in losing to Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup.

At the other end of the pitch, Norwich are one of the lowest scoring teams in the division, but are still getting enough goals to secure points. Grant Holt and Robert Snodgrass lead the way with four goals apiece, while Anthony Pilkington has also chipped in with three, including the winner against Manchester United.

Hughton may not be as exciting, dynamic, or tactically diverse as his predecessor Paul Lambert, but he has fashioned a solid, functional team. Even if they lose to Chelsea on Boxing Day, Norwich would still be on course to finish with a better points total than last season if they could continue to accumulate points at their current rate.

Chelsea, too, are on course to better last season’s points haul, and sent a message to the two Manchester clubs at the top of the table by thrashing Lambert’s Aston Villa 8-0 at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

The Blues brushed aside talk of fatigue following their recent Club World Cup campaign and put in a superb performance. They opened the scoring three minutes in, adding a further two before half-time and then another five in the second half – four of which came in the final quarter of an hour.

It was a perfect riposte to their critics and a result that surely must now give coach Rafael Benitez some credit with the Chelsea supporters, however much they despise him from his days at the helm of Liverpool.

Chelsea are, though, still 11 points behind United at the top of the table and need to put together a consistent run of winning results if they hope to close the gap further, something that could prove difficult with a trip to high-flying Everton to come on the 30th December.

Benitez’s arrival has certainly resulted in Chelsea becoming a better organised team, with the most visible manifestation of his work being the increased responsibility handed to the wide players to help out defensively. But his side are also functioning pretty well in an offensive sense. Sunday was the third time they have scored five or more goals since Benitez took charge.

Fernando Torres still looks nowhere near the bright, speedy striker who terrorised Premier League defences during Benitez’s spell at Liverpool, but after a well taken headed goal against Villa has now scored in seven of nine appearances in all competitions since his countryman took the reigns at Stamford Bridge.

The employment of the direct, pacey Victor Moses on the right has allowed Chelsea to stretch the play, opening up space for Eden Hazard and Juan Mata but also tiring opposition defences. It means that when the more subtle abilities of Oscar are introduced the Brazilian has a little extra yard of space in which to work his magic.

Norwich v Chelsea Betting Tips Verdict

Norwich have won five on the bounce at Carrow Road and have only lost once there all season. They will look to keep things tight and hope to snatch the goal that would allow them to take another famous scalp to add to those of Arsenal and Manchester United.

Chelsea will be on a high following their evisceration of Aston Villa, but are likely to find the going a little tougher against a more resolute Norwich side. We would not be at all surprised if the spoils are shared, as they were when the two sides met at Carrow Road last season.

  • Back the draw @ best odds of 41/13 (a little over 3/1) at Pinnacle.
  • Norwich have conceded just two goals during their recent five match unbeaten streak at home,  both of which came after the 43rd minute. We believe they are capable of stifling Chelsea for at least the first half and therefore suggest backing the time of 1st away goal to be over 37 minutes @ 5/6 with Bet365.