Juan Mata’s superb strike from distance proved the difference as Chelsea edged Norwich 1-0 at Carrow Road in the Premier League.
The Blues were not in as fluent or as potent form as they had shown in an 8-0 drubbing of Aston Villa, but they controlled possession and held on.
Sebastian Bassong had a late chance to salvage a point for the Canaries, who grew in confidence as the game wore on, but his close-range header went straight down into the ground and over the bar.
With Manchester City sliding to defeat against Sunderland, Chelsea move to within four points of second place, with a game in hand over last season’s champions.
Interim Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez made changes from the side that ran riot against Aston Villa on Sunday, with Frank Lampard, Eden Hazard and Ramires amongst the players rested – but David Luiz did retain his berth in central midfield, partnered by the returning John Obi Mikel.
Norwich also welcomed back Grant Holt into the side, with manager Chris Hughton no doubt hoping that he could live up to his record of seven goals in his 11 matches against the traditional ‘Big Four’ clubs.
Having scored 13 goals in their last two games, Chelsea started with understandable confidence, stroking the ball around with class and applying pressure from the off.
It did not, however, translate into clear chances – Norwich, who prior to a weekend defeat at West Brom had been unbeaten in 10 Premier League games, were well-organised and resolute in defence.
Luiz had a pair of shots from range which sailed dreadfully high and wide, and early on the best chance probably fell to the hosts, with Robert Snodgrass having half a chance blocked after a cross from Anthony Pilkington.
But class began to tell, and the pressure on the Norwich defence grew stronger. Mata, unleashed by a delicate ball from Luiz, hit the side netting with a low shot, before he found his range from distance.
The goal was fashioned by Victor Moses and Oscar exchanging passes and finding a bit of space for their Spanish colleague, who did the rest with a sweet, placed shot that Mark Bunn could not reach.
Chelsea were the likelier side to score in the second half, but again clear-cut chances were at a premium.
Bunn scrambled clear an Oscar corner after pressure from Moses, before Holt went close at the other end on the counter-attack, only to be flagged for offside in any case.
Moses had the Blues’ best chance of doubling the advantage with 20 minutes to play – his chest down was out of the top draw, his half-volleyed strike as clean a whistle, but the ball crashed wide of the post.
Benitez made changes – Lampard enjoyed a 20-minute outing as Chelsea looked to shore up their lead, Eden Hazard came on for Moses and went close after linking up with the otherwise ineffective Fernando Torres, while in the dying minutes 17-year-old Dutch youngster Nathan Ake was given a couple of minutes in place of Mata.
None of those changes could make a difference – but nor could Norwich’s, whose hopes went when Bassong’s header looped over the bar.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Juan Mata (Chelsea): A moment of class from the midfielder separated the sides, but he was a constant threat and always composed for the Blues.
NORWICH: Bunn 7, Martin 6, Garrido 6, Bassong 6, Turner 7, Johnson 7, Tettey 7, Snodgrass 7, Pilkington 6, Hoolahan 7, Holt 6 - Subs - E Bennett (N/A), Morison (N/A), Howson (N/A)
CHELSEA: Cech 7, Azpilicueta 7, Cahill 7, Ivanovic 7, Cole 7, Mikel 6, Luiz 6, Moses 8, Oscar 7, Mata 8, Torres 6 - Subs - Ake (N/A), Lampard 6, Hazard (N/A)
- Sports & Recreation