The Blues were made to pay for our profligacy at Molineux, surrendering a first-half advantage and succumbing to a second consecutive away defeat in the Premier League.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek continued his rich vein of form in front of goal with a deflected strike early on, and we had looked the more likely to increase our advantage against opposition who were without a win in six. Willian struck the bar from a free-kick and had two other clear sights of goal, but it was Wolves who found the net twice in quick succession either side of the hour through Raul Jimenez and Diego Jota. They were the hosts' only on-target efforts of the evening.
It was a position from which we were unable to recover, so it is back-to-back losses on the road for Maurizio Sarri and his men. Results elsewhere mean we finish the 15th round of league matches in fourth place, ahead of Arsenal on goal difference. Man City are the visitors to Stamford Bridge next.
For our first midweek Premier League game since he arrived, the boss introduced five fresh faces to the side that began the weekend Fulham win.
Andreas Christensen, Loftus-Cheek and Cesc Fabregas all made their maiden Premier League starts in 2018/19; Christensen’s selection represented Sarri’s first change to the back four in the league this season. David Luiz made way, with Loftus-Cheek and Fabregas replacing Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho respectively. Ahead of them, Willian came in for Pedro while Alvaro Morata was given the nod to start up front.
Wolves handed a first Premier League start to 18-year-old Morgan Gibbs-White, and there were two further alterations to the team that begun their league defeat at Cardiff, with Ryan Bennett and Jota returning to the fold. Romain Saiss, having been a member of the back three in Wales when starting for the first time this term, was deployed in central midfield.
There were fireworks before kick-off on a relatively mild evening in the Black Country, and had our first shot in anger gone in it would have represented an equally spectacular sight, inside a minute-and-a-half of action. Fabregas picked up a second ball outside the area and scooped a pass over Hazard’s shoulder, but he couldn’t control his left-footed volley.
In the seventh minute a better chance fell the Belgian’s way after a clever Cesar Azpilicueta pass released N’Golo Kante inside the Wolves box. He waited before picking out an unmarked Hazard, whose first-time shot lacked conviction, placed too close to Rui Patricio.
Wolves were relatively content to sit deep and look to counter at pace when the opportunity arose, and it needed good speed from two of our quickest men, Willian and Toni Rudiger, to stop the surging Jota in his tracks with a quarter-of-an-hour gone.
Almost immediately afterwards we took the lead. Loftus-Cheek received a pass from Hazard on the left-hand apex of the 18-yard box, shifted the ball to his right to create space for an effort and fired at goal. Whether it was going in or not is a source of conjecture, but Coady was sufficiently alarmed to try and nod it away, and he succeeded only in placing his header past Patricio at his near post. The goal was given to Loftus-Cheek - his sixth in seven games.
As Chelsea sought to expose Wolves’ recent brittleness and extend our lead, Hazard drove at their backline and was tripped. Willian’s dipping free-kick was impressively tipped on to the bar and over by the stretching Patricio.
On the half-hour, Fabregas and Hazard nearly linked up to devastating effect with some slick interplay, but there were enough gold shirts back to crowd out the advancing Spaniard.
Fabregas then showed his defensive worth with a vital touch on the stretch to prevent Gibbs-White firing goalwards from close-range after a left-wing cross caused problems.
There was more exemplary defensive work on display at the other end when Hazard’s chipped through-pass released Willian. Watching it over his head, the no.22 never gained complete control of the skidding ball, allowing Bennett to get back and put in a thunderous tackle, much to Molineux’s approval.
What had been a very entertaining first half ended scrappily, but with the Blues ahead.
It was nearly 2-0 within 30 seconds of the restart. A fast break, initiated on the edge of our own box, developed into Loftus-Cheek racing round the outside of Hazard and playing it across goal in Morata’s direction. Willy Boly got a touch having been behind Morata, who wanted a penalty. The referee’s verdict was not a spot-kick, nor a corner, but a goal-kick.
The home crowd grew increasingly agitated with the referee’s decision-making as the foul count racked up. They would have had further cause for angst on 55 minutes when a typically-searching long Fabregas pass found Willian in space, but he half-volleyed well over after chesting it down.
Instead it was those of a Chelsea persuasion who were left scratching their heads after two Wolves goals in four minutes either side of the hour turned this encounter upside down.
The first owed much to young Gibbs-White. He scuttled away from Fabregas in the middle of the park, dropped a shoulder to deceive Kante and played a pass between Alonso and Christensen into Jimenez’s path. Having barely had a sniff all night, the striker wasted no time in getting a shot away, and watched as it zipped under Kepa and in.
Wolves’ first on-target effort of the night was followed four minutes later by their second, and it resulted in another goal. We never regained our shape after a misplaced Christensen pass, and when Joao Moutinho robbed Willian in midfield we suddenly looked very short at the back. Moutinho picked out Matt Doherty in plenty of space to his right, and the low delivery that followed was comfortably turned in by Jota at the far post, with barely a blue shirt in the picture.
Sarri responded immediately by sending on Pedro and Giroud in place of Willian and Morata.
It took some time for us to find our feet again, and when we did a sweetly-struck effort from Hazard almost had us level but fizzed agonisingly over. That was shortly after Kovacic replaced Kante.
The Blues piled forward in search of a late leveller and our best chance fell to Fabregas when the grounded Alonso’s cross was headed into his path, but he curled over from 16 yards.
It proved the final opportunity of what had turned into a very frustrating evening indeed, exemplified by a flurry of late yellow cards for the Blues.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, Christensen, Alonso; Kante (Kovacic 77), Fabregas, Loftus-Cheek; Willian (Pedro 65), Morata (Giroud 65), Hazard.
Unused subs Caballero, Zappacosta, David Luiz, Jorginho.
Scorer Loftus-Cheek 18
Booked Fabregas 64, Giroud 85, Alonso 90, Christensen 90+4
Wolves (3-4-3): Rui Patricio; Bennett, Coady (c), Boly; Doherty, Saiss, Moutinho, Vinagre; Gibbs-White (Costa 72), Jimenez (Dendoncker 81), Jota (Cavaleiro 88).
Unused subs Ruddy, Hause, Traore, Bonatini.
Booked Saiss 37, Moutinho 54, Coady 61, Vinagre 68
Scorers Jimenez 58, Jota 63
Referee Jon Moss