sport

Ivanovic: Tougher tests lie ahead

Branislav Ivanovic warned Chelsea that far tougher tests lay ahead after helping them shrug off the latest club scandal.

The European champions refused to be knocked off course by the John Terry and Ashley Cole furore as they came roaring back to crush Norwich 4-1 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Posting their best start to a season since 2006 - 19 points from 21 - was the perfect way for Chelsea to go into the international break.

But the Blues, who are past masters at playing amid a maelstrom off the field, will return to action in a fortnight to face what could end up being their hardest run of games of the entire campaign.

First up is a reunion at Tottenham with former boss Andre Villas-Boas, who tried so hard last season to get Chelsea playing the kind of dazzling football they are now producing under Roberto Di Matteo.

That is followed by a difficult Champions League game away to Shakhtar Donetsk, back-to-back league and Capital One Cup clashes with Manchester United and - after a trip to Swansea - home meetings with Shakhtar and Liverpool.

To make matters worse, the Blues will be without captain Terry for their first four domestic games during that period if he decides not to appeal against the guilty verdict in his Football Association racist abuse case. It is still unclear whether Cole will face any suspension for his offensive tweet towards the FA on Friday, with Di Matteo confirming on Saturday the club would take disciplinary action of their own against the left-back.

It was therefore no surprise right-back Ivanovic refused to get carried away with Chelsea's scintillating form.

"At the moment, a lot of things are okay," said the 28-year-old after smashing home his fourth goal already this season on Saturday.

"But we still have to work hard and it's going to be very, very tough. We expect, after the international break, a very hard period of games and we have to be ready for that."

Norwich threatened to pile on the misery for Terry on Saturday when they took a shock lead while the Chelsea captain was still hobbling after picking up a knock.

But the home side were level in a flash when Fernando Torres headed home Ivanovic's cross and the game was all but over 17 minutes later as the visitors shipped another two goals.

Ivanovic told Chelsea TV: "We wanted to stay at the top of the league, which is very important for us to keep our concentration and our motivation up.

"We didn't start well but we reacted well and got a very important three points."

Chelsea are looking more and more like the kind of team owner Roman Abramovich envisaged, having scored 16 goals in their last four matches.

They still look vulnerable at the back but so far boast the best defensive record in the top flight.

"The whole team defends well and we enjoy defending together," Ivanovic said.

"Important also is that we keep the ball well and this does not give a lot of chances to our opponents to try to play against us."

That has been credited to the addition of the likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar to the already-outstanding Juan Mata.

Even Norwich boss Chris Hughton could not hide his admiration.

"What they have added offensively to the team is exceptional in the young players they have brought in," he said.

"They are, of course, getting the best out of Mata, who looks a really quality player.

"Oscar and Hazard, they're two of top quality."

Hughton could not say the same about his own players after Saturday's performance that left him still searching for his first league win in charge.

"I knew it'd be a tough job," said the man who replaced Paul Lambert this summer.

"I'm following somebody that had a very successful three years.

"But we're seven games into a season, there is a lot of football to be played.

"I'm realistic about what the challenge is and the challenge is always there.

"I need to make sure that I have a group of players that are still very, very much up for this challenge."