Chelsea cemented top spot in the Premier League with an attacking masterclass, romping to a 4-1 win over Norwich at Stamford Bridge.
Grant Holt gave struggling Norwich an early lead against the run of play after 11 minutes, but Fernando Torres levelled three minutes later, before Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard scored delightful goals to put the Blues comfortably ahead after half an hour.
In the second half it might easily have been a rout as Oscar, Juan Mata and Hazard took centre-stage, but in the end Chelsea managed only one more, a sumptuous volley from Branislav Ivanovic 76 minutes in.
The Blues will finish the weekend four points clear at the top of the table, while Norwich remain stranded near the foot of the league.
Roberto di Matteo’s decision to include both Ashley Cole and John Terry stole the headlines, but it was his attacking combination which had more of an impact on the match.
With the unbeaten league leaders hosting the winless Canaries, only one result looked likely, but Holt’s early strike gave the Blues an early scare.
It was a well-worked move – Wes Hoolahan running unchecked before picking out Sebastian Bassong in the box, who nodded down for Holt to rifle past Petr Cech.
But the lead was short-lived. Torres, who had spurned an early chance with hesitancy after being played in over the top, got on the end of a cross from Ivanovic and glanced past John Ruddy to level.
Chelsea kept attacking, and the second came after Torres attempted an overhead kick. It was blocked – but straight into the path of Lampard, whose finish was clinical.
The Blues were not watertight at the back and Norwich did have their chances – Alexander Tettey had got into a great position up front only to completely misjudge his header.
But it left them exposed to the counter-attack, and they were undone for the third by a superb break led by Mata. The Spaniard went most of the length of the field laying on a deft through ball for Hazard, who knocked it first-time into the corner.
The chances rained down during the second half – Holt, along with Hoolahan the bright spots in a tame display for Norwich, nodded just wide at the far post for the visitors before Chelsea resumed normal service.
There were at least two clear penalty chances that the Blues were denied – Hazard was bodychecked by Leon Barnett chasing a lost cause of a ball, while Terry’s shirt was clearly pulled by Martin when he tried to head in at the far post late on.
Meanwhile Oscar tested Ruddy out from distance, Mata almost rounded off a flowing team move with a finish past the Norwich keeper, while Torres came close on a number of occasions.
Despite the combination of attacking talent, Chelsea’s only goal of the half came from a defender.
Oscar put in the cross from the left-hand side, Mata flicked it back in towards the middle, and Ivanovic with all the poise of a striker crashed the ball in at the near post.
Ivanovic may be a right-back, but with six Premier League goals in 2012, he has only been outscored by Fernando Torres (eight) and Frank Lampard (seven) for the Blues this year.
Norwich avoided further damage on the scoresheet, but with their next Premier League fixture pitting them against Arsenal, Chris Hughton's task of getting a first Premier League win with the Canaries looks a tricky one.
For Chelsea, who were able to give a late Premier League debut to Cesar Azpilicueta and a first top flight appearance of the season for Oriol Romeu, the team look in great shape, despite the notable off-field distractions, going into the international break.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Juan Mata (Chelsea) – To stand out in an attacking midfield boasting Oscar and Hazard says something about the calibre of Mata’s performance.
CHELSEA: Cech 7, Ivanovic 8, Luiz 7, Terry 6, Cole 7, Mikel 6, Lampard 7, Mata 9, Oscar 8, Hazard 8, Torres 7. Subs: Ramires 7, Azpilicueta N/A, Romeu N/A.
NORWICH: Ruddy 7, R Martin 6, Barnett 4, Bassong 5, Garrido 6, Bennett 6, Howson 5, Tettey 5, Hoolahan 7, Johnson 6, Holt 7. Subs: Morison N/A, Pilkington 6, R. Bennett N/A
- Sports & Recreation
- Fernando Torres
- Frank Lampard
- Juan Mata
- Eden Hazard
- Branislav Ivanovic