It took just seven minutes to dismiss this as a potential banana skin for Chelsea. The crowd at Stamford Bridge were just settling in as Mason Mount opened the scoring for Thomas Tuchel's side. From there it was one-sided dominance, as Chelsea sounded a warning shot in the Premier League title race with a comfortable 7-0 win over a dismal Norwich City side in a victory that further underlined their strength in depth.
Without the injured Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic, Tuchel told his makeshift forward lineup they needed to "step up" to fill the void on Saturday lunchtime after a run of Premier League games in which Chelsea looked, at times, vulnerable. Kai Havertz started as a false No. 9 with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mount dovetailing on either side, but this was an all-court showing from Chelsea, who played with width and commanded every facet of the match.
The only thing missing was a goal from Havertz, on the day both Hudson-Odoi and Mount got their first in the Premier League this season. Mount finished with a hat trick -- his wonderful low drive from outside the box to open the scoring, a retaken penalty thanks to Tim Krul's encroachment for a save off the first attempt and then a tap-in for his third and Chelsea's seventh in stoppage time.
Norwich's only moments of coherence came from their travelling support as their team were pushed and pulled all over the place by Chelsea's inverted wingers and wing-backs. Ben Chilwell and Hudson-Odoi spun Ozan Kabak into the turf on Chelsea's left, while Reece James and Mount's first-half dominance was to such an extent that Norwich boss Daniel Farke made wholesale changes at the break on that side. With Chelsea already 3-0 to the good at half-time thanks to goals from Mount, Hudson-Odoi and Reece James, those substitutions failed to stem the tide, as Chilwell's clinical strike, a Max Aarons own goal, Mount's retaken penalty and his late third added to Norwich's woes, having had Ben Gibson sent off for two bookings in the 65th minute.
This was a comfortable victory for Chelsea in a performance more reminiscent of the width shown in the early days of Tuchel's reign, but this was the next step in their evolution with an interchangeable formation, as traditional full-backs James and Chilwell at times played through the centre while Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic dominated the midfield, picking up Mount's and Hudson-Odoi's runs in behind to great effect as Havertz's movement caused Norwich's centre-backs all sorts of trouble. Chelsea's press was claustrophobic, and Norwich were restricted to one half-chance that was snaffled out by the quick thinking of goalkeeper Edouard Mendy.
Havertz's role leading the line was one of the prematch talking points, but he passed this test. Havertz has had a strange time since scoring that winner in the Champions League final. His performances for Germany in the summer suggested he was going to attack this season's Premier League, but it has been a stuttered start. Tuchel suggested earlier in the week before their 4-0 win over Malmo in the Champions League that Havertz lacked the "statistics of decisive things, of goals and assists" and would need "to fight his way back into the team." Then came Lukaku's ankle injury and Werner's pinged hamstring, and Havertz was the man charged with keeping Chelsea's Premier League bid on track from up front.
Though we're still waiting for him to answer Tuchel's challenge to build up his attacking numbers, he'd have seen how Havertz's movement gave Grant Hanley a torrid afternoon, dropping deep to then create room for Mount and Hudson-Odoi to charge through. He failed to make a dent on the scoreboard, and had only two shots, but his presence created space for his cohorts to exploit. Tuchel sees Havertz as a hybrid forward, somewhere between a No. 9 and No. 10, but this was a game in which both player and manager would have learnt a huge amount from and gives them a chance to build further.
While Havertz failed to get in on the goal-scoring act, Mount and Hudson-Odoi opened their respective accounts for the season. Hudson-Odoi was another player challenged prematch by Tuchel to answer the call, and he was lethal in his favoured position up front on the left. Deployed by Tuchel as a right wing-back last season, Hudson-Odoi looked more settled running at Norwich's backpedalling right side, and he answered the challenge with a wonderfully taken first-half strike, thanks to Kovacic's precise through-ball, and also featured prominently in the build-up to James' delightful chipped finish. Tuchel said he needs 250 or so games to prove a point, and this game will only be judged for its importance in seasons to come. But on a day when Chelsea needed to get the job done, the supporting cast stepped up to fill in for the missing protagonists.
And then there was Mount, who walked off with the match ball. His relief was palpable after he got Chelsea off the mark, and then he eased back into familiar life, pulling the strings in midfield and pouncing for his two late goals. If Mount was one of the players challenged by Tuchel to step up, then the coach will be pleased with his player's reaction: Tuchel said postmatch: "[Mount] plays a bit more freedom in last few matches, this is what we need. He's very competitive and serious about his goals he wants to reach. I see him a bit lighter now and it means a lot to him that he has a hat trick under his belt."
The integration of once-forgotten players such as Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Antonio Rudiger is further proof of Tuchel's ability to get the best out of everyone at Chelsea. Teemu Pukki's going to have an awfully tough time getting out of Rudiger's pocket after this match. This strength in depth was further emphasised by Tuchel's second-half substitutions, as those players out on loan last term were used to see out the match. Mount ended up in the false No. 9 spot, with Barkley -- who was denied by Krul as the goalkeeper tried valiantly to stem the tide -- on the left, and Hakim Ziyech on the right. It was an unfamiliar lineup, but there was no respite in intensity or creativity as Chelsea kept their foot on the throttle.
"I don't want to get carried away too much," Tuchel said. "We've played four times in a row as favourites, and I like the humble approach and [to] set our own standards. We push ourselves and play all-in, and not distracted from the road. This is the most important and anything is possible. If you have a bit of luck and have more chances, you get more confident. We are capable of scoring four or seven goals, which is good. There will be other, closer games and [we will] be prepared for that when it arrives."
This was a match in which Chelsea coped comfortably with their absent personnel, against a poor Norwich side. But it also showcased Chelsea's title credentials and, more importantly, allowed players to rediscover form and confidence. As afternoons go, this could hardly have gone better for the home side.