Defensive delight for Rafa
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez acknowledged yesterday’s 1-0 win at Norwich was just as important as their weekend thrashing of Aston Villa.
The Blues needed a special first-half strike from Juan Mata to beat a determined Canaries team, just three days after they had hammered Villa 8-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Although the Boxing Day victory over Norwich will not have drawn as many plaudits as the demolition job on Sunday Benitez was equally as delighted by Chelsea’s display.
“I think it is important to see the team working hard and defending well,” he said. “We have another clean sheet after Villa, where we were playing really offensive football.
“We could manage and we could control against a good team. They were well organised and pushed and were quite dangerous on the counter-attack, but we were doing our job in defence and that is something we have improved and can keep on improving.
“This kind of game – 1-0 – a free-kick, corner or counter-attack can make a difference so until the end they were pushing so we did well.”
Heading into the fixture, the Canaries had lost just once since going down 4-1 at Stamford Bridge on October 6.
A different approach was required at Carrow Road, and Benitez promised there was more to come from his players.
“We can manage different kinds of games and still get results,” he said.
“There are not a lot of teams who can play football like we did the other day and also show that we can defend and work hard in difficult conditions (at Norwich) with the rain at the end. We are in a good position but can still improve.”
Norwich boss Chris Hughton was pleased with the endeavour shown by his side to limit a talented Chelsea team to only a few chances.
“I thought we dealt with them for really big periods of the game,” he said. “The chances they had I thought were fairly minimal. We restricted them.
“As the game opened up in the second half I think we broke very well and showed good energy and might have got a draw in the end.”
But Hughton was unhappy with the wastefulness of his players when they were in possession.
Mata’s goal came after Norwich had gifted the ball to Chelsea, and he had missed another chance minutes earlier after David Luiz nicked the ball from Wes Hoolahan.
“The area I was disappointed in during the first half was that we have been good on the ball but we were a little bit loose and it allowed them to have three or four good counter-attacks,” Hughton said.
“We dealt with them eventually very well but it was a ball that was given away (that led to the goal). They broke very well and we got bodies around the ball, but I think you have to admire the strike.”