David Freezer: Don’t stop believing, City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
It’s hard to believe that it was just six months ago that West Brom won 5-2 at Chelsea, providing a timely reminder for Norwich City that underdogs should always travel in hope.
It already feels like this is a different Canaries team to the one that was thrashed 5-0 at Manchester City in August, being outclassed as the champions gave a debut to a £100million player.
Christos Tzolis and Josh Sargent had been in the country less than a fortnight, Grant Hanley, Ben Gibson and Kenny McLean were returning from injuries and the final transfer additions of Mathias Normann, Ozan Kabak and Brandon Williams were yet to arrive.
Based on the increased resilience, organisation and defensive intent shown recently, I’d have high hopes that if that match was being played again today, City would offer far better resistance.
That theory will be tested thoroughly this lunchtime against a Chelsea team that is maybe not quite as free-flowing as Manchester City but that is undoubtedly one of the best in the world currently.
Sitting top of the table and with Champions League glory still fresh in the mind, the Blues have been phenomenally efficient and strong since the arrival of Daniel Farke’s former Borussia Dortmund colleague Thomas Tuchel.
Since taking over from Frank Lampard the German has enjoyed 27 wins and nine draws from his 43 games in all competitions, losing just seven – only four of which have been in the Premier League.
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During that success, his players have scored 61 goals, conceded 22 and kept 26 clean sheets.
Facing the team bottom of the table with just two points and two goals from eight matches would suggest that City have little chance at Stamford Bridge. There is always a chance though.
The one huge anomaly among Chelsea’s results under Tuchel is that shock 5-2 home defeat to the Baggies in April, when Sam Allardyce’s struggling team had won just one of their last 11 matches.
The Blues had taken the lead but Thiago Silva was sent off for a clumsy second yellow card in the 29th minute and the hosts folded like a deckchair, with some lovely finishes either side of the break launching struggling West Brom into a surprise 4-1 lead.
Mason Mount pulled one back but Callum Robinson secured a famous win for the Baggies. Allardyce’s team were inspired to a 3-0 home win over Southampton in their next game – but were still relegated after managing just two draws from their final seven games.
Such results do not come along often and that match was played behind closed doors, with Silva’s sending off excellently exploited.
Norwich haven’t enjoyed many memorable results away to the Premier League big boys, with the 2-1 win at Manchester United in December 2015 the last of note, when the Tettey toe-poke earned City’s first win at Old Trafford in 26 years.
You’ve got to be in it to win it though and as Farke said at his pre-match press conference, the Canaries have “nothing to lose” at Stamford Bridge.
Lose and eyebrows elsewhere won’t even twitch, let alone be raised. Chelsea are nailed on favourites and even a draw would be considered a major slip in the title race, with Liverpool and Manchester City breathing down their necks.
That’s even with strikers Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner pulling up injured on Wednesday night, as Tuchel went full strength to make sure of a 4-0 home win over Malmo, after defeat at Juventus in their last group game in the Champions League.
Lukaku has looked unplayable at times this season and would certainly have brought a hugely difficult challenge to City’s new defensive strength, if he had played.
In their absence though? Tuchel will just have to make do with £75million Germany forward Kai Havertz, the man who scored the winner in the Champions League final in May.
Even if the goal drought extends to a fifth game and even if it does prove to be a defeat today, the Canaries will have to dig even deeper than they did for the steadying draws with Burnley and Brighton.
If they can pull together a performance that manages to protect that little bit of momentum they’ve scrapped for, it would be so beneficial to the following two games against Leeds and Brentford.
Both will be difficult tasks but far more winnable than against Chelsea and could even offer the opportunity for Farke to start easing a bit more attacking threat back into the mix.
As the famous Journey song tells us as it’s belted out in karaoke bars around the world: don’t stop believing.