Chelsea face fixture congestion after dour 0-0 FA Cup draw at Norwich
NORWICH, England -- Three points from Norwich and Chelsea's 0-0 draw in their FA Cup third-round clash at Carrow Road.
1. Chelsea taken to replay in bore draw
This was the outcome nobody wanted and on an afternoon nobody will hark back to in a hurry. Chelsea huffed, puffed and failed to convince against Norwich City, who fully merited their replay and will add to the Premier League side's fixture congestion when they run out at Stamford Bridge in 10 days' time.
Norwich, who currently sit nine points off the Championship play-off places, were the better side in a first half that will not live long in the memory. They were far quicker to the ball and defter in using it, too, although clear-cut chances were at a premium. James Maddison saw an early shot blocked and Josh Murphy, a willing threat down the left, saw an effort curl over before fizzing another shot across goal.
Chelsea's response was paltry: a speculative strike by Kenedy that deflected wide off Norwich centre-back Christoph Zimmermann was as exciting as things got. They struggled for shape and intensity, failing to put together any substantial spells of pressure in the opening period.
A sharper return to the fray after the interval promised better when Zimmermann had to defend desperately to prevent Willian from turning in Davide Zappacosta's header. Danny Drinkwater then side-footed wide when given a presentable glimpse of goal by the Brazil international and for the first time, the visitors began to look a therat. Willian was behind most of their best work and tested Angus Gunn twice in quick succession, his first effort a low drive that the Norwich keeper had to sharply tip round the post.
Yet Chelsea still looked sloppy and were almost punished with 21 minutes to play. Willy Caballero had rarely been seriously tested but missed his punch from a right-sided free-kick and was fortunate to see Murphy, returning the ball on the volley, send it well wide via a touch off David Luiz.
It was Luiz, dipping a trademark free-kick narrowly over, who had a chance to make the headlines as the clock ticked down; Zappacosta then volleyed inches wide at the death but Chelsea would not have deserved a winner here and now face a replay that Conte could hardly have wanted less.
2. Luiz sums up struggles of Chelsea's fringe players
On the evidence of Saturday's performance, Conte has a busy month ahead. He rested a number of senior players with nine of the team that drew so thrillingly at Arsenal last Wednesday being rotated out. Alvaro Morata was the only first XI player to make the bench while the likes of Eden Hazard, N'Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas were nowhere to be seen.
The return of David Luiz, however, was the primary talking point. The centre-back had not played since the win at Qarabag on Nov. 22nd, with a knee injury cited as the reason for his absence while rumours about his future at the club alsom rumbled on. He looked ripe for Norwich to exploit and they targeted him accordingly. By the interval, the Brazil defender had been booked for a late challenge on Maddison and, more glaringly, almost cost his side a goal. It happened midway through the half when, with Chelsea attempting to build from the back, he dithered in possession and was caught by Alex Pritchard, subsequently breathing a sigh of relief when the ball rebounded wide.
Norwich's movement, particularly their lack of a recognised centre-forward, was a problem for a centre-back still working his way to match fitness but Luiz was far from the only Chelsea player to struggle. Michy Batshuayi, who really needs to take opportunities like this is he is to convince a manager who appears not to rate him, was an irrelevant figure up front and it was no shock when he was replaced by Morata for the latter stages as Conte sought to avoid a replay.
Kenedy, playing his first non-Carabao Cup game of the season, had little influence at left wing-back while Drinkwater and Bakayoko failed to set the tempo in midfield. This was Chelsea's 11th game in five weeks and it told; their sluggishness will not have escaped the attention of Conte, who has a big transfer window ahead of him if Chelsea are to rediscover the depth they need.
3. Maddison shows promise for lively Norwich
There was little reason for Norwich, who are unlikely to go up or down this season, not to have a good go at this and they performed accordingly. For some members of a talented but under-performing young side, this was an opportunity to shine against top opponents and there was a particular focus on the 20-year-old playmaker Maddison. Liverpool were among his other suitors when he left Coventry City to join Norwich (then a Premier League club) two years ago and he has been the Canaries' best player in a largely underwhelming league campaign.
He showed glimpses of his talent on Saturday evening without quite coming to life. Maddison was fielded in a "false nine" position by his manager Daniel Farke, although a mobile Norwich front three swapped positions throughout the match. He and Pritchard, two wonderfully adroit footballers, linked up neatly throughout and probed dangerously in the lines between midfield and defence.
What Norwich really lacked was a player who could run in behind given that Murphy generally stationed himself out wide; with a centre-forward in front of them, Maddison and Pritchard could have enjoyed a far more sustained influence, with much of their best work instead resembling garnish on a dogged, hardworking cake.
Watching Norwich perform like this makes it hard to believe that they have fallen so far. Their best players will almost certainly be sold if they do not manage a late charge to promotion and it is tough to imagine that Maddison, in particular, will be spending another year in the second tier. As a minimum he did not look out of place against a labouring Chelsea; the replay should give him another big chance to put his name firmly on the map.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.