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Chelsea-Norwich City Preview

By TOM BENNETT

STATS European Football Writer

(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Chelsea will be flying high on confidence when they travel to Carrow Road to play Norwich City on Boxing Day.

After losing to Brazilian side Corinthians in the final of the Club World Championship in Japan, the Blues (9-5-3) returned to Premier League action with a bang on Sunday - thrashing Aston Villa 8-0 - and manager Rafa Benitez believes a title challenge may yet be a possibility for last season's European Champions.

"We will see after two or three more games," said Benitez. "You could see the team had confidence in themselves (against Villa), they believed, and that was there to the end. They had good movements, created chances. Now we have to sustain this run and it will be easier for me to say we can compete."

In-form Norwich (6-7-5) lost their first game in 11 on Saturday, going down 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion. However, their stunning run has taken them into the top half of the table ahead of the turning point of the season, and manager Chris Hughton is hopeful his team's fine form can continue.

"It is about how we react," said Hughton. "To have been on such a long unbeaten run in this division is a testament to a group of lads that have seen us right in every game, as we were today. It is just those defining moments, but you have to put that behind you.

"At some stage we were going to lose. We've got two very tough games coming up but at the moment it is just about that next one."

Steven Whittaker (thigh) and Andrew Surman (knee) are injury doubts for Norwich, while John Ruddy remains out with a hip injury. However, the Canaries' star striker Grant Holt may return following a niggling injury.

"With Grant it was touch and go for the West Brom game and it was the right decision for him not to play, absolutely," said Hughton. "We've got a lot of games coming up and we need to make sure he is right and ready, but we are very hopeful that he will be available for the next game."

Ryan Bertrand (groin) and John Terry (knee) are doubtful for Chelsea, while Oriol Romeu (knee) is out for the rest of the season.

These two clubs have met 35 times in league football in their history, each winning 12, with the other 11 matches drawn. Chelsea have won two of the three games since Norwich returned to the top flight, out-scoring the Canaries 7-2 in those matches, but were held 0-0 at Carrow Road last season.

Norwich have won five of their eight games at home despite scoring just 10 goals. Since their 5-2 hammering at Carrow Road by Liverpool back in September, Chris Hughton's side have conceded just three goals in six home games. Chelsea's eight goals against Villa made them the league's second-top scorers with 36, behind only table-topping Manchester United (44).

Chelsea rolled to a 4-1 victory in the reverse fixture Oct. 6, overcoming Holt's goal in the 11th minute as Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard all scored in a 17-minute span of the opening half before Branislav Ivanovic added a second-half marker.

Updated December 24, 2012

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