André Villas-Boas has taken his team to Mallorca for warm-weather training before what promises to be a stormy FA Cup match against Queens Park Rangers at the weekend because, he says, they need a "break of routine". He has got that right.
At Carrow Road, as so often this season, Chelsea were as slow and predictable as a Londoner's daily commute, thus continuing the cycle of a campaign in which bright performances have tended to be followed by ones so grey that it is almost impossible to see silverware on the Chelsea horizon.
After battling to victory over Manchester City on 12 December, Chelsea have stuttered to three wins, four draws and one defeat. Such a pattern means that even a place in the Champions League next season is in jeopardy, though Villas‑Boas ridicules that notion, insisting: "We will finish at least fourth, for sure."
The manager said of the trip to Spain: "We're just going for a change of environment, a break of routine. There is nothing to speculate about, lots of Premier League teams do it during winter. We chose Spain rather than the Middle East because the time-zone difference is less aggressive," he continued, lest, perhaps, anyone suspect the destination was chosen with the intention of bringing Fernando Torres home.
The Spaniard endured another dispiriting afternoon against Norwich City, failing to score for a 17th consecutive match for club and country. He had chances, being denied in the first half by a fine save by John Ruddy and in the second by his own miscue, poking wide after collecting a cross from José Bosingwa. Overall he was again hard‑working but hapless and it was no surprise when he was replaced late on by Romelu Lukaku.
"If we are creating opportunities it is also because of his great movement and mobility," said Villas-Boas, who professes to being convinced that the £50m striker will rediscover his scoring touch. "It is just efficiency and timing of arrival and that is sometimes down to misfortune. One day I think things will go for him. It comes also with practice and doing the extra work that we present optionally to all the players – [Torres] has been doing it constantly."
Chelsea's malaise runs deeper than Torres's net phobia. The contrast with Norwich was instructive. While Chelsea remain a team in search of cohesion and identity, Paul Lambert's side play with a confidence and effectiveness that comes with faith in the clear methods of the manager, who has guided them to two consecutive promotions and, most likely, survival in the Premier League. Such is the quality that they are showing that some Norwich players are being tipped not just to stay in the Premier League but to appear at this summer's European Championship.
The form of the midfielder Andrew Pilkington, who excelled on the right in the first half, and Wes Hoolahan, the schemer who was omitted on this occasion to accommodate two more destructive midfielders, has led to a clamour for both to be called up by the Republic of Ireland, and there is a growing lobby for Fabio Capello to cap Ruddy.
The goalkeeper's rise is similar to that of many of this team-mates. After five years on Everton's books – during which he was loaned out to nine different clubs – he was bought by Norwich last season, played a key role in their promotion and continues to improve. His fine save from Torres helped him to achieve his first league clean sheet of a season.
Getting a call-up to England would be "a great honour for me and my family" – although going to the Euro 2012 would entail a tactical reshuffle chez Ruddy: "I've got my wedding in June so I'd have to ask the missus," he said. "Maybe we could kill two birds with one stone and have a holiday in Poland and Ukraine."