Kenedy and Diego Costa fire Chelsea past relegation-threatened Norwich
Chelsea made it three Premier League wins in a row with a 2-1 victory at Norwich City, but the team had to work hard for three points from a side embroiled in a relegation dogfight.
The Blues got off to a flyer when Kenedy, playing at left-back, scored the fastest goal of the season with just 39 seconds on the clock. The early strike put wind in Chelsea's sails while deflating their hosts', and the visitors continued to toy with the Norwich defence with lots of clever interplay.
The dominance throughout the first half was such that the only concern for manager Guus Hiddink was that his team had not added to its tally, but that changed on the stroke of halftime. A lovely ball from Bertrand Traore split the Norwich backline, and Diego Costa cheekily chipped the ball over the advancing John Ruddy, albeit having started in an offside position.
Having cruised to a 2-0 lead, the visitors must have thought the game was won, and they took their feet off the accelerator entirely in the second half, perhaps with next week's Champions League round-of-16 second leg against Paris Saint-Germain in mind. That meant Norwich had the time, space and inclination to thrive in the vacuum, and they began to overrun the Chelsea midfield.
Cameron Jerome started to find space but could not convert any of a host of openings that came his way. On the right flank, the vibrant Nathan Redmond started to torment Kenedy, and it was little surprise when he pulled one back for Norwich on 68 minutes.
The home side then piled forward in search of an equaliser, with Chelsea barely putting in a tackle, though it was Costa who should have extended his team's lead when he side-footed a good chance wide of the post. Thibaut Courtois still had to pull off a late save to secure the points, and it was Chelsea that ended the match victorious to make it 12 games unbeaten in the Premier League.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- He was not called into action too often, though he was sharp when involved. His point-blank save of Jerome's late header ensured that the points returned to London.
DF Kenedy 7 -- A surprise choice at left-back, he repaid his manager's faith by firing home from outside the penalty area after just 39 seconds to score his first Premier League goal. He struggled to deal with Redmond in the second half and was understandably replaced after the deficit was halved.
DF Branislav Ivanovic, 6 -- With the responsibility of covering Kenedy outside him, he had a difficult evening on his hands. He was outstripped for pace by Jerome in the first half and failed to block off the space in the buildup to Redmond's goal.
DF Gary Cahill, 7 -- This was a solid display from the England man, and it was exemplified by a rugged but fair challenge on Jonny Howson that left the midfielder in need of medical attention.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- No massive dramas for the Spaniard, with most of Norwich's attacks coming down the opposite flank.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 6 -- This was a meandering performance from the playmaker who was neat and tidy in the first half, though utterly anonymous for large swathes of the second. He was put into the action shortly before the end and played a lovely pass to Costa that the striker couldn't convert.
MF Nemanja Matic, 5 -- Comfortable when those around him were controlling the ball in the opening 45 minutes, he looked distinctly perturbed after the break as Norwich upped the tempo. He was easily bypassed on numerous occasions, as the hosts poured forward despite nominally being the squad's most dynamic ball-winner.
MF Oscar, 6 -- It was a fairly quiet performance from the Brazilian, who linked the play well in the first half but was rarely incisive. He was replaced on the hour mark as Hiddink sought to shore up the midfield.
FW Eden Hazard, 7 -- This was a more productive display than has been seen in recent weeks, though he still appears to have a fear of shooting at goal. His movement was excellent, and he helped carve the Norwich defence open several times, though he constantly passed up the opportunity to pull the trigger.
FW Bertrand Traore, 7 -- The Burkino Faso international put in a bright and breezy performance that bodes well for the future. Always comfortable on the ball, he notched an assist when Costa scored from his through pass. He will be disappointed, however, to not have made more of his opportunity when one-on-one with the goalkeeper, only for his heavy touch to take it away from him.
FW Diego Costa, 8 -- He ran, harried, bumped and barged in a way only he can. He worked tirelessly and got the goal his endeavours deserved, even if he should have been flagged for offside.
MF Willian, 6 -- He never really got up to speed, largely because his teammates were mostly on the back foot.
MF John Obi Mikel, 6 -- He was introduced to lock up the centre of the pitch but had little positive effect in that regard.
DF Baba Rahman, 7 -- He was a defensive improvement on Kenedy, though he still had a few nervy moments.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.