x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Chelsea fumble chance at English Premier League title with scoreless draw against Norwich City

This match, as well as effectively ensuring Chelsea will not win the English Premier League title, encapsulated why they will not, writes Jonathan Wilson.

John Terry, right, and Branislav Ivanovic, centre, of Chelsea react as referee Neil Swarbrick turns down a penalty appeal during their Premier League match against Norwich City at Stamford Bridge on May 4, 2014 in London, England. Michael Regan / Getty Images
John Terry, right, and Branislav Ivanovic, centre, of Chelsea react as referee Neil Swarbrick turns down a penalty appeal during their Premier League match against Norwich City at Stamford Bridge on May 4, 2014 in London, England. Michael Regan / Getty Images

Chelsea 0 Norwich City 0

Man of match Michael Turner (Norwich City)

LONDON // For Chelsea, the problem was all too familiar. Against dogged teams that defend deep, they simply lack the guile and imagination to break them down.

A goalless draw against Norwich City left them a point behind Liverpool and Manchester City, both of whom have two games to play as opposed to Chelsea’s one.

This match, as well as effectively ensuring Chelsea will not win the league, encapsulated why they will not.

There were only four home league games Chelsea failed to win this season, but they were against Sunderland (who won), West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United and Norwich (who drew).

In part, perhaps, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is right to blame his forwards. With a genuine world-class striker his team probably would have been able to capitalise on the occasional half-chances that crop up even against the deepest lying defences.

“Our strikers are good strikers,” Mourinho said. “There are no doubts about that but they are not players who in five square metres with three or four players around them can see the space and dribble on and get the shot.”

But at the same time, it does seem his transition towards a more dynamic, more direct side has robbed Chelsea of imagination.

Last season, Chelsea’s creative trident of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar became known as the Macazar. This season Mourinho seems to have almost systematically dismantled the trio.

Mata was sold to Manchester United in January, while neither Hazard nor Oscar started against Norwich.

Mourinho hinted last week that he felt Oscar’s form had fallen off since Christmas, suggesting he was saving himself for the World Cup, while he clearly was unhappy with Hazard for the way he lost Juanfran in the build-up to Atletico Madrid’s equaliser in the Uefa Champions League semi-final, second leg on Wednesday.

Remarkably, after all the talk of Rafa Benitez’s supposed negativity last season, his side racked up 51 goals in 26 league games compared to 69 in 37 for Mourinho: an average of 1.96 to 1.86.

“When you lose in a Champions League semi-final and you know that you are not realistically in the title race I think especially the mental energy disappears, the focus disappears, you start thinking more about what next than what you have to do now, and that was reflected in the first half,” Mourinho said.

“The first half was a typical consequence of that state of mind. In the second half we were much better, better enough to win but we didn’t.”

Hazard did come on at half-time and was probably the liveliest Chelsea player, but that was not saying much. Other than his efforts, Andre Schurrle hit the post and David Luiz, another half-time substitute, hit the bar but that seemed the extent of productive play.

But Norwich also had their chances.

Martin Olsson should have had a penalty when he was fouled by a combination of Ashley Cole and John Terry 12 minutes into the game, and Robert Snodgrass, sent clean through with 13 minutes to go, saw his effort deflected wide.

So they live on and, if Sunderland lose to both West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday and Swansea City next Sunday, they will survive with a victory over Arsenal.

It is a faint hope, but it is something to cling on to.

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