The last Premier League game before Christmas takes the Blues on our travels to the West Midlands. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton dodge the festive shopping duties to provide their preview…
Chelsea take on Wolverhampton at Molineux for the reverse of Thomas Tuchel’s first match in charge back in January, when Nuno Espirito Santo was across the technical area. This will be the Blues’ 57th game under the Bavarian, who has a 61 per cent win rate.
The omicron variant has claimed half this weekend’s fixtures, but our last Premier League action before Christmas is the first of two away matches for the Londoners in league and cup that will not be broadcast live in the UK.
The Wolves have huffed and puffed at times this season – eight of their top-flight outings have ended 1-0 either way, and they have notched two goals in their past seven matches.
The last few games have been no fairy tale for the European champions either, but Thomas Tuchel is certain effort will lead to output as his Covid-depleted team aim to recover ground lost over the past few weeks.
The Blues have returned triumphant from seven of the past eight away days on a Sunday in the league, while the hosts have lost their last three at home on that day of the week.
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Chelsea have won 12 of our 17 away Premier League games (70 per cent) under Thomas Tuchel, drawing three others.
— KEY STAT
Chelsea team news
The big news yesterday was that Kai Havertz had returned two negative test results and was back in training. We still await what Thomas Tuchel called ‘the lottery of results’ before Sunday, though, with player wellbeing the main priority.
The 79 per cent possession recorded is the highest for the Blues this season (pipping the 77 during our 3-0 win at Newcastle) and the reconfigured team fashioned sufficient chances to be well ahead by midway through the first half. The lack of precision kept the score blank and after that there was insufficient threat against an inexperienced Everton line-up.
Further injury setbacks for Jorginho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek may mean N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic form Sunday’s midfield pairing, one that last started in our UEFA Super Cup success against Villarreal back in August.
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On Thursday Mason Mount became the youngest ever Blues player (at 22 years, 340 days) to net in four successive Premier League games, and to reach 20 in his career.
This weekend he will aim to emulate Frank Lampard, the last player to score five times in a row in the top flight for the Londoners between April and August 2010.
Our leading marksman has set up a goal and found the net in both his past two league games on the road and had a hand in three of the past four Chelsea goals against Wolves.
Reece James’ assist against the Toffees took him to five in the league, one more than in his previous two campaigns combined.
This will be Chelsea’s first encounter with a team handled by former Benfica coach Bruno Lage. Initially it seemed his approach was more adventurous than under predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo. Yet they have had four cleans sheets in the past six outings and Man City and Liverpool laboured to carve out chances against a well-drilled rearguard.
Overall, Lage’s pack of Wolves defend higher upfield, pass forward more, press aggressively in organised fashion, and build attacks from the back. Naturally their expected goals rate has risen, but they have underperformed in finding the net, with 12 goals in 17 games.
Neither nutmeg king Francisco Trincao (on-loan from Barcelona), Adama Traore (used off the bench again at Brighton) nor teenage striker Fabio Silva (ruled out with Covid) has contributed a goal or assist this season. Daniel Podence initiates their effective final-third press and has set up two goals, but has not opened his own account for the campaign.
In contrast, loan signing from RB Leipzig, Hwang Hee-Chan, has struck four times from five shots on target. He pulled up lame at Brighton but first choice line-leader Raul Jimenez is back from suspension anyway.
In a difference from last season, Wanderers can lay claim to the second-most tackles won (along with far fewer shots conceded) as well as the third fewest crosses. They also have the second worst penalty goal difference behind Newcastle (-6), having earned none and conceded from four.
Some things have not changed at Molineux. Midfield lynchpins Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho still set the tempo and spray the ball metronomically. Neves’ quality of touch was evident on Wednesday in his subtle scoop for Roman Saiss’s well-taken winner.
The hosts have had an extra day over Chelsea to rest and prepare for this fixture.
We have history
Ninety-eight years ago Chelsea and Wolves played back-to-back matches on Christmas and Boxing Day of 1924. Harry Miller scored the only goal of the game at Stamford Bridge on 25 December and a day later the Pensioners won by the same scoreline at Molineux. The scorer was the appropriately named Seth Plum, though whether he celebrated with extra pudding is unrecorded.
No break for Thomas
Thomas Tuchel has never managed a Christmas programme of matches like England’s tradition, unique among Europe’s top leagues.
With his feet up at home, surrounded by decorations and festive food during the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 winter breaks, he was always delighted there was Premier League action to enjoy on his television. And of course there is plenty of local experience in his coaching and conditioning staff to help navigate this hectic period.
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Reece James has two more league games to complete without a fifth caution to avoid a one-game ban for accumulated yellow cards. During Thursday’s action, Jorginho joined Marcos Alonso on three for the campaign.
No one else in the Chelsea squad can fall foul of the rule before the 19th game, after which 10 Premier League bookings up to and including the 32nd fixture will result in a two-match suspension.
Going into the weekend, Boxing Day hosts Aston Villa have a key quartet of players on the brink: Tyrone Mings, Matt Cash, John McGinn and Marvelous Nakamba. Brighton, who visit the Bridge three days later, have Adam Lallana, Neal Maupay and Joel Veltman on four yellows.
If you know your history
Thursday’s draw matched a much-loved club achievement. Chelsea are now unbeaten in 27 league games at home to Everton since 1994, equalling our longest ever such run against an opponent: the 27 undefeated against Tottenham recorded between 1990 and 2016.
The ins and outs of January
The midseason transfer window will be open for business from Saturday 1 January until 11pm on Monday 31 January. La Liga and Serie A will not start trading until Monday 3 January.
Thomas Tuchel has said there has been no discussion of new signings at Chelsea as he is happy with the squad, though things can change rapidly in football.
Premier League players whose contract expires next summer are entitled to find a new home through a pre-contract agreement with an overseas club from the first day of the new year.
Matchweek 18 Premier League fixtures
Aston Villa v Burnley 3pm
Leeds v Arsenal 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
Man Utd v Brighton 12.30pm (Postponed)
Southampton v Brentford 3pm (Postponed)
Watford v Crystal Palace 3pm (Postponed)
West Ham v Norwich 3pm (Postponed)
Newcastle v Man City 2.00pm (Sky Sports)
Wolves v Chelsea 2pm
Tottenham v Liverpool 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
Everton v Leicester 12 noon (Sky Sports) (Postponed)
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