Chelsea may have turned the corner as pressure eases with Norwich win
Chelsea 1 - Norwich 0
One win proves little, especially against a side as limited as Norwich City, but there is reason to believe the worst is over at Chelsea.
Their three previous Premier League successes this season, against West Bromwich Albion in August, Arsenal in September and Aston Villa in October, were each followed by more failures, but in none of those matches did Chelsea convince.
This was different. Performances have been improving and this time the result followed, with the margin flattering Norwich, not Chelsea. The virtuous circle is completed by a growing sense of stability around the club, and increased confidence in the players.
Champions League qualification for the knockout rounds, which may be achieved when Chelsea play Maccabi Tel-Aviv in Israel tomorrow, would further lighten the mood ahead of Sunday's tricky visit to White Hart Lane. Chelsea are still in the bottom half of the table, but the idea of them coming fourth suddenly seems less improbable.
Saturday's 1-0 victory, via a Diego Costa goal, leapfrogged them over Norwich, whose form, with one win in eight matches and five defeats in six, is notably worse than Chelsea's.
Lower expectations mean there is no sense of crisis at Carrow Road and, while the Canaries can be ruthless when making managerial changes, Alex Neil has a lot of credit in the bank after last season's promotion.
"I am comfortable we have enough in the squad [to survive]," he said, before contradicting himself by adding: "January is coming up and we will try and strengthen, if we can it will certainly help us. It is no secret we tried to add quality in the summer, but a few fell through on deadline day."
Neil laughed in response to his opposite number Jose Mourinho's claim that there was a referees' conspiracy against Chelsea, a bitter laugh given that he felt Norwich should have been awarded a penalty with the game goalless when Willian blundered into Robbie Brady.
"It would be interesting to see what Jose thought if he managed one of the bottom teams, it is very different I can assure you," Neil said. "When everyone apart from a corner of away fans is shouting at the ref and putting him under pressure, and there is a high-profile manager like Jose shouting at the fourth official… The referee is only human, it is bound to have some sort of effect. Whether it makes a difference in the decision or not remains to be seen."
Neil had a brief contretemps with a member of Chelsea's staff who was upset at the way Neil, too, berated the fourth official. "I am in there fighting for my team," said Neil.
"Smaller teams really need these decisions to be given as we won't get five or six incidents like that in a game, we may only get one, if it is a free-kick or penalty we need it to be given."
That it was not is maybe another indication that Chelsea's fortune has changed.