One down, two more to go for Chelsea. The English Premier League’s third-place team remained on pace to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Tuesday’s 1-0 win over already-relegated Norwich City.
Veteran French forward Olivier Giroud scored the only goal the Blues would need with a diving header on the stroke of halftime. The strike was set up by red-hot 21-year-old American Christian Pulisic, whose seeing-eye cross found Giroud’s dome on the doorstep:
Getting the full three points was crucial for Chelsea following Saturday’s deserved 3-0 loss at Sheffield United. That slip-up could’ve cost the Blues dearly, but fourth-place Leicester City and fifth-place Manchester United both squandered opportunities to leapfrog the Londoners in the standings in the days that followed. Leicester conceded four second-half goals after taking a 1-0 lead against relegation-threatened Bournemouth on Sunday, and on Monday, Man United gave up an equalizer to Southampton in second-half stoppage time.
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard tore into his team following the upset against the Blades. But while the performance was better Tuesday against an inferior foe — the Canaries didn’t manage a single shot, on goal or off, for the first hour of the contest — they still let Norwich hang around way too long. A second goal would’ve prevented what had to be a nervy final few minutes for the coach. Despite firing 18 shots at Tim Krul’s net, the insurance goal never came.
Still, Lampard had to come away impressed once again by the attacking play of Pulisic, Giroud and Brazilian midfielder Willian. Pulisic made his sixth consecutive Premier League start (seventh across all competitions) and has scored or set up a goal in all but one of those games.
In all, Pulisic has been directly involved in seven of the 13 goals Chelsea has scored since Project Restart brought the Prem back following a three-month hiatus necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. He could’ve scored in this one, too, but Krul made a pair of fine saves on Pulisic on either side of halftime, including this slick finger-tip stop following a brilliant turn and shot by the U.S. national teamer:
Meantime, Giroud was back in Lampard’s lineup after being dropped from the starting 11 at Sheffield United. The 33-year-old — who spent much of the season before the break on the bench — has now scored four goals in seven games since play resumed last month. Giroud had other chances to score on Tuesday. But the one he did convert stood up as the valuable game-winner.
Chelsea’s next match is its FA Cup semifinal July 19 against Man United. After that, a daunting trip to Premier League champion Liverpool awaits. Chelsea’s final match of the season is at home to Wolves on July 26.
Win those, and the Blues are guaranteed to finish in the Prem’s top four, securing the Champions League berth that comes with it. One down, two more to go.
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