MATCH PREVIEW – NORWICH CITY
Chelsea resume league competition this weekend after a fortnight of bittersweet emotions in cup competitions. Defeats to Newcastle and Barcelona will have been tempered by their winning of the Carling Cup, but the Blues will be happy for the return to Premiership football and the title run in.
With the storm of media criticism and UEFA allegations encircling Jose Mourinho, it is easy to forget that Chelsea keeper Petr Cech will travel to Norwich on Saturday with over fifteen hours worth of clean sheets behind him in the league. Another shut out at Carrow Road would see the Czech Republic international break the English league record held by Millwall (1926) York (1973) and Reading (1979) and extend his run to eleven games. The Blues’ title assault as been inspired by the form of its defence and keeper and an away game against the relegation fighting Canaries will see the same principle applied.
Norwich- inspired by half time motivational talks from culinary queen and club icon Delia Smith- have been gallantly fighting for survival since the opening day of the season. Scoring has not been a problem for Nigel Worthington’s side, though defensive frailties have ensured that the relegation dogfight will go right to the wire in East Anglia. When the Canaries visited Stamford Bridge in December, a 4-0 drubbing will have sent them away muttering about how survival will hinge upon results against clubs at their end of the table. Come this time of year and they need every point available- regardless of the opposition- and they will give Chelsea a fight this weekend.
Worthington will be hopeful that Mourinho has half an eye on next Tuesday’s Champions League second leg with Barcelona. The home side will need any scrap of assistance though complacency is not a trait yet displayed by the Champions elect. Claudio Ranieri would probably have rested numerous key players in this situation, though you get the feeling that the Portuguese leaves less to chance.
John Terry, Frank Lampard and Damian Duff will all be looking to grab three of the twenty-five points that Chelsea need to win the title for the first time since 1955. Tiago will likely return following his rest during the League Cup final and Joe Cole should also feature in midfield following some lively performances of late.
Norwich will be hoping for the type of relegation battling heroics that will live long in the memory. Arsenal loanee David Bentley will not be able to assist due to his injured knee, although January signing Dean Ashton will be looking to continue his promising start for the club. Much hyped keeper Robert Green has had a torrid time this season and will need to produce the first in a string of fine performances if he is to keep Norwich up.
The two club’s different agendas will not detract from a fierce contest in this late kick off clash. Chelsea will want to capitalise on an upcoming run of weak opposition, whilst their hosts will be bracing themselves for precisely the opposite- Bolton, Arsenal and Manchester United come next for the Canaries. It is hard to see Norwich preventing the visiting Blues from hammering the first nail into their relegation coffin as the fat lady warms up her vocal chords.