Eden Hazard saved Maurizio Sarri from another damaging defeat with a superb long-range strike to rescue a late point for Chelsea.
Wolves had gone ahead through Raul Jimenez’s 12th league goal of the season before Hazard struck. Despite the late equaliser, Chelsea failed to leapfrog either Manchester United or Arsenal, while Wolves remain in 7th, gaining a point on Watford.
The fans had to wait a while before the game came to life. The first half summed up how both sides set up for the match as Chelsea dominated possession while they found it difficult to penetrate the organised visitors who would have at least eight players behind the ball.
No real threat came from either side and the fact Wolves didn’t register a shot in the first half epitomised their approach to the game.
Most of the attacking action was reserved for the second half, despite no change in approach from either team. Wolves surprisingly took the lead when Jota was able to find Jimenez in the middle of the area after a quick break.
The away side got a stroke of luck when Jimenez’s effort deflected off a lunging Azpilicueta, spinning into the corner of the net. That was the Portuguese’s 12th league goal of the season, equalling Stephen Fletcher’s record for the most goals scored by a Wolves player in a Premier League season, with eight games still to come.
Chelsea put the structured Wolves side under the cosh with the visitors getting few counter-attacking opportunities. Sarri introduced Callum Hudson-Odoi, Willian and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in search of more attacking impetus. Gonzalo Higuain couldn’t connect with a tap in at the back post as a fast and faint touch put the ball out of reach.
Rui Patricio was called into action several times and the Wolves blockade were committing more fouls as the pressure piled on. In the face of the intense pressure, it seemed Chelsea wouldn’t find a way through. Up step Chelsea’s saviour.
A quick short corner caught the Wolves defence off guard. Willian passed to the edge of the area where Hazard was left with space. One touch took it inside and unleashed a rasping, curling strike, through the bodies in the box, and into the far bottom corner beating the despairing Rui Patricio.
Both sides pushed for a last minute winner, but neither were able to create a real opportunity and the points were shared.
Wolves continue to add to their impressive collection of points against the top six and were unlucky not take all three. Their organised setup allowed them to sit deep while preventing Chelsea from getting close to the goal. The three central defenders were able to keep Higuain quiet and deemed him ineffective.
While Chelsea controlled possession from start to finish, it took them conceding a goal to come to life. They lacked energy and creativity until Sarri’s substitutions and struggled to get key players firing on all cylinders in open play. Chelsea need to replicate the pressure and intensity of the last 30 minutes for the entirety of the game to see themselves stay in contention for a Champions League finish.
Conor Coady: the leader of the pack
Conor Coady has featured in every game for Wolves this season, playing in every minute for the club this year. He was key to their return to the Premier League and has continued to be an invaluable player for the Midlands club this season.
He came through the academy system at his hometown club, Liverpool, but was only able to achieve two senior appearances before being loaned to Sheffield United before a permanent transfer to Huddersfield in 2014. He made his move to Wolves in 2015 and has earned 149 appearances for the club since so far.
Wolves’ defensive record under Nuno has been outstanding. This season, they have the third defensive away record in the league, only trailing the title-chasing Manchester City and Liverpool. While his defensive partners Boly and Saiss have missed games for Wolves through injury and suspension, Coady has been their Mr Reliable at the back.
While he hasn’t contributed any goals this season, he has been a core contributor to Wolves’ impressive defensive record with an impressive disciplinary record having committed only seven fouls and receiving five yellow cards. He has made 27 tackles, with a 59% success rate, 24 interceptions, 103 clearances, 192 recoveries and has made no errors leading to goals.
His involvement in today’s game saw him frustrate lone striker, Higuain, and limit his chances to a minimum. Few aerial threats were created by the opposition and Coady assisted in clearing the many set pieces Chelsea had during the game.
While he isn’t the standout player who makes the headlines for Wolves, he’s instrumental in keeping this Wolves side organised, resilient and solid. An England call-up could be on the cards for the 26-year-old leading up to the international break.
The Italian job low on fuel
Sarri’s status as Chelsea manager seems to come under question more and more each week. Considering the London club’s cut-throat approach in recent years towards their managers, it’s surprising that the Italian hasn’t been axed yet.
Sarriball’s deep defending and forward pressing while playing fluid, attacking football with a deep-lying playmaker have failed to emanate through Chelsea. During his time, he has been questioned on the quality of Jorginho, the role of N’Golo Kante and his reluctance to change tactics. The Blues’ start to the season suggested that they would be title contenders, but as the story has unfolded, so did their form.
The introduction of Sarriball hasn’t proven to be a hit at Chelsea as the players have not been able to adapt. The Italian manager’s philosophy, which was effective and entertaining for Napoli, still hasn’t hit home with his new squad. The players at his disposal were good enough to win the league under Antonio Conte and have abilities which should suit Sarri’s style.
He even has former Serie A players should understand his tactics. However, the Premier League playing style is more intense than that of the Italian top flight. The fast-paced and competitive nature of the Premier League is not something as frequently experienced in Serie A.
The former Serie A players have failed to make an impact in the Premier league. Jorginho has come under the most scrutiny for his supposed lack of forward creativity and contribution to attacking moves. He is vital to Sarriball but his influence and threat in games is minimal, which could highlight the ineffectiveness of the tactics in England’s top tier.
Higuain’s short start to the Premier League hasn’t launched the Chelsea team forward but more rather stagnated into a similar situation the club were in with Morata up top. Left wing-back Emerson has also failed to impress and will come under fire for his lack of effort in trying to prevent the Wolves goal today.
Conte’s success with the club seem like a distant memory. Although Chelsea are currently trying to back Sarri, the poor results continue, and so does the fans’ growing unrest with the manager.
His Italian counterparts Jorginho and Emerson are urging the fans to be patient but considering they aren’t the most popular figures at Stamford Bridge, it’ll be interesting to see how the fans react after another disappointing result. Should the club abandon the new philosophy and try to salvage the remaining games with a top-four finish? Or should they commit to their new manager and show some loyalty?
The top six troublers
Wolves sit in 7th on 44 points and are just one place behind Chelsea, albeit trailing by 13 points. They aren’t troubling the top six through contention for a league spot but more so that they take points from the top six teams in the Premier League.
They were agonisingly close to a memorable victory and to doing the double over Chelsea today as the reverse fixture saw them beat the Blues 2-1. They have taken the most points from the top six clubs in the Premier League compared to all other clubs outside the top six this season and still have to face Manchester United and Liverpool this season.
They have achieved this success through good defensive organisation with a speedy counter attacking game plan in place. This was demonstrated perfectly for most of the game today as they limited Chelsea to few chances while being quick on the break, something which was ultimately the source of their goal. Wolves were then forced deeper for the remainder of the game but held firm, still only limiting Chelsea to half chances.
The midfield three shield the defence through interceptions and tenacity to shut down their opposition. They set-up with eight men behind the ball and use their attacking pace to exploit the spaces. Usually, Wolves will look to control possession, but they sacrifice this against the top clubs for the extra resilience in defence, which has proved important in these games.
They have taken points from all top six teams except Liverpool, even though they knocked them out of the FA Cup. For a newly promoted club, this highlights how much Nuno has progressed with his squad this season.
Hazard the spark Chelsea can’t lose
Once again, Eden Hazard is the difference for Chelsea. The Chelsea team were subdued for the first half, including Hazard himself, but he is the focal point of their play when they’re struggling. The ball was being moved to the wider positions, just like in most games where Chelsea are struggling. He has touched the ball over 1,800 times this season and has a pass completion rate of 82.8% from over 1,300 passes.
He is currently enjoying a fine season with 11 assists and 13 goals to his name. His previous best is 16 league goals – a figure he will be keen to surpass before the season’s close. However, after Chelsea’s underwhelming season, it’s arguably time for Hazard to move on.
A player of his ability and stature to change games as often as he does should be in a world class team which can beat anyone. He is regularly digging Chelsea out of holes. He joins Lionel Messi as the only other player in Europe’s top five leagues to reach double figures for goals and assists for their club this season.
After continuous links with Real Madrid, Chelsea supporters will take comfort in the fact that Jose Mourinho may be taking over the reins at the Bernabeu, potentially putting Hazard off any potential move. With the transfer ban looming over the Bridge, Chelsea simply can’t afford to lose their star player.