We had to settle for a draw in Thomas Tuchel's first fixture as Chelsea head coach, despite completely dominating the match and nearly snatching a win with the last touch of the game.
Visitors Wolverhampton Wanderers barely touched the ball all night, especially in the first half, and failed to force a single save from Edouard Mendy, but we were unable to find a way past their back five at Stamford Bridge.
With the opposition seemingly determined just to deny us opportunities, we were made to work hard to carve out chances, with the best for both teams coming in the second half.
Pedro Neto might have snatched something for Wolves when he hit the crossbar one-on-one with Mendy, but it would have been harsh in the extreme on Chelsea, with Mateo Kovacic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Olivier Giroud and Kai Havertz all calling Rui Patricio into action.
It was Havertz who looked like he might have secured a dramatic first win for Tuchel right at the end, as his header looked goalbound with the goalkeeper beaten until a Wolves defender threw himself in front of the ball to deny our new head coach a memorable first victory.
Thomas Tuchel made 10 changes to the team for his first game as Chelsea head coach. Only time will tell whether it was a sign of the future direction he will take the team, or just an attempt to match up against Wolves' formation, but he also introduced a back three in a 3-4-2-1 system.
Hakim Ziyech was the only player who started Sunday's FA Cup win over Luton Town who was back in the line-up for today's Premier League fixture with Wolverhampton Wanderers, as he joined Kai Havertz behind lone striker Olivier Giroud.
Edouard Mendy came back in for Kepa Arrizabalaga as goalkeeper, with Cesar Azpilicueta captaining the side on the right of that defensive three, alongside Thiago Silva and Toni Rudiger.
Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic were paired in a midfield two, with Ben Chilwell and, in perhaps the most eye-catching of his team selections, Callum Hudson-Odoi operating as attacking wing-backs on the flanks.
Before kick-off Chelsea marked Holocaust Memorial Day with a tribute commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. The names of 20 sportsmen and women, 17 of those of Jewish heritage, who were murdered by the Nazis, were read out at Stamford Bridge as their images appeared on the pitchside LED screens. Those sportspeople’s silhouettes were also lit up in the darkness of the upper tiers around the stadium
All those inside the stadium rose to their feet for a minute’s silence in memory of all the victims of the Holocaust, while images of memorial candles were shown on the big screens.
The Tuchel era begins
On the pitch, Thomas Tuchel’s time as Chelsea head coach began with plenty of possession, particularly through the midfield two of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, as the German’s decision to match up like-for-like against Wolves’ formation appeared to stifle the visitors in the early exchanges.
We started to threaten early on too, with gasps from those on the touchline as Olivier Giroud was inches away from getting on the end of Callum Hudson-Odoi’s low ball across the six-yard box inside the first five minutes. The Frenchman did get on the end of a cross from the other side shortly afterwards, but he couldn’t get enough on it to direct his header on target under pressure.
There was a loud round of applause from the bench for Kai Havertz when a powerful run from the midfielder drove him through the middle of the pitch and into the penalty area, but he couldn’t trouble the goalkeeper as he tried to get a shot in off balance from a tight angle.
The first 20 minutes was played almost exclusively in Wolves’ half of the pitch, but clear cut chances were proving harder to come by than possession. The closest we went in that opening period came when a headed clearance fell to Hakim Ziyech just outside the box, but Rui Patricio was well positioned to gather his curling shot at the far post.
Wolves had their first shot not long after that, when they were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position after a collision between Toni Rudiger and Pedro Neto, but Ruben Neves sent his effort over the bar without worrying Edouard Mendy.
There was then a break in play for Daniel Podence to receive treatment following a clash with Thiago Silva, which Tuchel made good use of as he was deep in conversation with his two wing-backs Ben Chilwell and Hudson-Odoi.
It was those two who combined to carve out our next sight of goal, as Hudson-Odoi’s high looping cross dropped at the back post where Chilwell was rushing in, but he closed down too quickly and his volley was blocked.
The Chelsea players were voicing their frustration with the referee when he allowed Wolves captain Conor Coady to receive treatment for a bloody nose on the pitch, resulting in another lengthy pause in play that threatened to derail our momentum.
The visitors briefly came into the action a bit more, but we were soon back in control as our head coach urged his players to keep up the high tempo that had left Wolves struggling to get near the ball so far.
The pressure we were exerting was starting to show as we approached half-time, with Rudiger testing Rui Patricio down low to his left after getting his head on a free-kick from wide, after Ziyech had been bundled to the floor by the touchline.
Patient in possession
The patience being shown by the Blues was admirable, as despite being able to count Wolves’ touches on the ball during the last five minutes of the first half on one hand, it was proving difficult to find a way past the massed ranks of their deep defensive unit. There was a glimpse of a possible route to goal when perhaps our longest uninterrupted spell of passing so far ended with Ziyech sliding a pinpoint pass through the defence for Hudson-Odoi, but Wolves managed to recover just in time to smother the wing-back’s low cross.
Wolves changed their left wing-back during the break, and it was down that side that we almost found the breakthrough straight from the start of the second half, when Hudson-Odoi’s cross found Havertz around the penalty spot, but the ball was slightly behind the German and he couldn’t gather it under control.
There felt like a greater urgency from both sides early in the second half, which was reflected in a few niggling fouls as players fought for possession, and then Neto received the game’s first yellow card when he reacted to one such offence by pushing Jorginho to the ground.
Looking for the breakthrough
Wolves seemed determined to have a greater say in proceedings in the second half than they had in the first, and were on the ball more often, but the possession was still very heavily weighted in our favour. The statistics had shown that Chelsea played more passes in the first half of this game than any team since Opta started recording those figures.
That didn’t make chances any easier to come by, though, as the ball refused to drop for us in the box as first Giroud and then Havertz tried to put it low into the six-yard box, and then Wolves’ Max Kilman was forced to head over his own goal with Giroud poised to get on the end of Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross.
The best chance of the game so far then arrived for Chilwell. A nice spell of quick passing ended with Kovacic sliding a great pass through for Havertz in the left channel. He cut the ball back into the path of the advancing Chilwell, but he couldn’t get over the ball and sent his first-time shot over the bar. Perhaps some frustration at that missed chance played a part when he was booked shortly afterwards for a lunging challenge on Adama Traore.
Another slick piece of passing as Hudson-Odoi sent the ball around the corner to Ziyech first-time allowed the latter to find Giroud in the box, but the Frenchman couldn’t find enough space to get a clean shot away and beat Rui Patricio.
The Portuguese goalkeeper was then back-peddling when a deflected Havertz effort threatened to loop over him and into the net, but it floated just over before the linesman raised his flag anyway. We were causing the Wolves defence more problems now, though, with Giroud and Havertz in particular now starting to find a bit of space in and around the box.
Hudson-Odoi was also now finding room down the right to deliver crosses, but we were then given a warning about getting complacent with our dominance. Nelson Semedo intercepted a pass high up the pitch and Neto was released in behind our defence by a quick one-two with Podence, but thankfully his attempted chip over Mendy landed on top of the crossbar and bounced behind for a goal kick.
That proved to be Podence’s last touch, as Wolves brought on their new signing Willian Jose to make his debut. Tuchel responded with an attacking double change of our own, with Christian Pulisic and Tammy Abraham replacing Chilwell and Giroud. That meant Hudson-Odoi switching to the left side and Pulisic coming on as the other wing-back, although by this point in the game, given our domination, our two wing-backs were operating further forward than most team’s wingers.
Pulisic instantly seemed to put the Wolves defenders on the back foot with some direct running with the ball as the same pattern of play, something akin to a training game of attack against defence, continued.
It was through some Pulisic trickery down the right that we went a whisker away from taking the lead, as he drew defenders towards him, leaving space for Kovacic to curl in a shot as the ball came across the edge of the box to him, but the it rippled the side-netting the wrong side of the post with Rui Patricio beaten.
Hudson-Odoi then drew a save with the goalkeeper at full stretch with a shot from a similar position after cutting in from the left, but with five minutes left we were still searching for the winning goal our dominant performance more than deserved.
Wolves defender Willy Boly almost put the ball into the net for us as he attempted to clear inside the six-yard box, after substitute Mason Mount had turned smartly into the penalty area and drilled across goal.
It looked like we might find that goal with the very last touch of the game, as Havertz rose highest to power a header towards goal from a Mount corner, but somehow Wolves got a body in the way to deflect the ball over, and the referee blew the final whistle before we could take the resulting second corner.
It's not long until our next Premier League match and we are at home for the third game in a row. This time Burnley are the visitors to Stamford Bridge for another midday kick-off on Sunday.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, Thiago Silva; Hudson-Odoi, Jorginho, Kovacic, Chilwell (Pulisic 75); Ziyech (Mount 82), Havertz; Giroud (Abraham 75)
Unused substitutes: Kepa, Zouma, James, Alonso, Emerson, Werner
Booked: Chilwell 62
Wolves (5-4-1): Rui Patricio; Semedo, Boly, Coady (c), Kilman, Ait-Nouri (Hoever h-t); Traore (Moutinho 91), Dendoncker, Neves, Neto; Podence (Willian Jose 72)
Unused substitutes: Ruddy, Silva, Vitinha, Cutrone, Saiss, Otasowie
Booked: Neto 51
Referee: Andrew Madley