Three days after a thrilling comeback against Southampton at St. Mary’s Stadium, Chelsea hit the road again and travel to Norwich to face a Canaries’ side that are in desperate need of points having sunk into the relegation battle and just staying clear of the bottom three on goal difference.
The current fortunes of these two sides couldn’t be more contrasting. Since Guus Hiddink took over in the Chelsea dugout, the Blues have met defeat just once in the Champions League against Paris Saint-Germain and have yet to be defeated in the Premier League.
On the other side, Norwich are on a terrible run of form and have not won since 2 January against Southampton and have only taken 1 point in that timespan.
Norwich’s problems are pretty much the same as any other relegation battling side. They’ve had a tough time scoring goals and they’re having trouble keeping them out. More problematic for Norwich is that they’ve also thrown away leads in two matches in which they played well.
The Canaries should have beaten Liverpool at Carrow Road after going 3-1 up, but threw away the two-goal advantage and ended up losing 4-5 after some shoddy defensive work.
Just weeks later, Norwich had a 2-0 lead over West Ham at Carrow Road before nerves set in once again and ended up drawing the match 2-2.
The Canaries will hope to reverse their fortunes and put in a performance worthy of points that they desperately need, but they will be hampered by the possible absences of Wes Hoolahan and Sebastian Bassong and will face a Chelsea side that are starting to put together performances befitting the current Premier League champions.
But Chelsea have their own question marks, not least injuries and a tricky fixture list that will see the Blues play three matches in the span of just eight days.
John Terry will once again miss out after suffering a hamstring problem and is in a race to be fit for the PSG return leg in just a week’s time. Pedro limped off after 7 minutes in the match against Southampton and will miss some time.
With the fixtures piling up and injuries coming into play, manager Guus Hiddink has said that a few players may face a rest in the next match or two, especially with PSG on the horizon.
Alexandre Pato has been working on his fitness since it’s essentially still preseason for him and has been declared fit enough to merit a bench spot. However, ahead of him in the pecking order of strikers is Bertrand Traore who may get a start either against Norwich or Stoke at the weekend in order to give a rest to Diego Costa.
The interesting decision for Hiddink against Norwich is on Baba Rahman. The Ghanaian fullback was substituted at halftime on the weekend against Southampton after a mistake allowed Shane Long to open the scoring. The young Brazilian Kenedy replaced Rahman, and it will be interesting to see if Rahman starts against Norwich after Hiddink alluded to him feeling sorry for himself after his error.
The conundrum is that if Baba doesn’t play, Cesar Azpilicueta remains the only recognized first-team fullback available for selection, as Branislav Ivanovic has been moved to centre back in the absence of Terry. Kenedy, while effective when chasing the game, is more of a winger/forward and could be even more of a liability at the back.
Aside from the match, the good news from the club is that Ruben Loftus-Cheek has signed a 5-year extension with the club. With speculation that he could leave the club at the end of his previous contract that expired at the end of 2017, but hopefully his new contract shows the commitment of the club to give him a bit more playing time, and now would be the perfect time with the fixtures piling up.