And now, later than planned, club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview our final league game of the season…
So the stop-start 2019/20 Premier League campaign will finally reach its conclusion this weekend on an unseasonal midsummer afternoon. We cannot be present at Stamford Bridge to say farewell to football friends ‘until next season’. Instead we must cheer or grimace as the day’s dramas unfold through the small screen.
On offer to Frank Lampard and Chelsea this Sunday is a chance to secure a place in the Champions League against a Wolverhampton Wanderers team angling for another stab at the Europa League. The hosts will approach the game to win it, but a point will be enough to achieve the primary target, with a good chance of more to come next weekend.
The Blues have not lost a last game of the season staged at the Bridge for 18 years, winning seven and drawing three since a chastening defeat by Aston Villa in 2002. Some of the 10 since then have offered unforgettable examples of how to complete the task at hand.
In 2003 Marcel Desailly’s equaliser against Liverpool was enough to clinch Champions League football ahead of Roman Abramovich’s takeover (Chelsea going on to win that game 2-1), and in 2010 eight goals past Wigan from five different marksmen secured the Premier League title in the most emphatic fashion.
Although the 3-4-3 formation was breached five times at Anfield (the first 3-5 defeat since Tottenham on New Year’s Day 2015), it could still be Frank Lampard’s preferred option for this huge match, perhaps with different personnel as N’Golo Kante has returned to training.
The system accommodates in-form players, offers protection against the threat of Adama Traore on the wing, and allows wing-backs to help press Wolves’ midfield schemers Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho.
Wolves have lost their past two matches against teams using three at the back, and in the reverse fixture 10 months ago, Chelsea’s 3-4-3 dismembered them 5-2 at Molineux in Nuno Espirito Santo’s 300th game as a coach, leaving the Wanderers winless and 19th in the table.
Fikayo Tomori hit one of the goals of the season, Tammy Abraham notched the quickest hat-trick of the season, and Mason Mount grabbed the fifth. That made it 11 consecutive goals scored by players aged 21 or under – a Premier League record.
On Wednesday, at Anfield, Abraham, at 22 years and 294 days, also became the youngest player to score 15 or more goals for the Blues in a Premier League season, ahead of Diego Costa (26 years, 95 days in 2014/15), and Eden Hazard (26, 108, in 2016/17). With at least three matches to go, the England striker has 17 overall, and he has scored every time he has faced the Old Gold side.
Olivier Giroud has hit seven goals in 10 games across all competitions, the irrepressible Christian Pulisic four in nine, and Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James appear sharper with each outing after injury.
On the other hand, 54 goals is the most scored against the Londoners since 55 in the 1994/95 and 1996/97 campaigns.
Wolves at the door
Wanderers have had an extra two days to recuperate and prepare for this match, but it has been a gruelling 12 months for them: they began their Europa League campaign with a match against Crusaders of Northern Ireland a year ago today.
The Crystal Palace result on Monday sealed their best-ever points haul in the Premier League, and was the 56th game they have played this season. Despite the workload Wolves have placed their faith in just 20 players, fewer than anyone else in the top flight, and one down on last season. Chelsea have used 27 in 2019/20.
Wanderers are unbeaten in 10 trips to London since achieving promotion in 2018. Although they are winless in their last two away trips, and have not scored more than once in three, they look back to being a well-drilled, methodical team. They also have a sprinkle of stardust in much-coveted Mexican target man Raul Jimenez and winger Traore.
Jimenez’s goals have been the most valuable in the league: his strikes have earned 19 points and eight have been match-winners. No team has more of a bias towards its right flank in attacks – 42 per cent go to the flank where Traore lurks. Most teams double up to stop his dribbles and work hard to handle his byline crosses.
Games of two halves
Chelsea have led at the midway point in 17 of the 37 top-flight matches played to date, a tally only bettered by Liverpool and the two Manchester clubs. In contrast Wolves rank second worst, taking a half-time lead in just seven games.
After the break the picture is very different. Whereas the Black Country club are fourth best in the league, winning the second 45 in 18 matches, Chelsea rank 11th with superiority in 12.
This may not serve to calm nerves on Sunday, but more than two-thirds of the away goals Wanderers have conceded have come in the first half, and three-quarters of those scored on the road arrived in the second.
All the permutations
Whatever happens at the King Power Stadium between Leicester and Manchester United, avoiding defeat against Nuno Espirito Santo’s team will secure Champions League football at the Bridge next season. Should Chelsea lose, the only result that would work in our favour is the Red Devils beating the injury-ravaged Foxes.
Interestingly, the mid-half drinks breaks introduced after the restart will offer additional moments for the benches to update and instruct players.
The Blues have been in the top four since October, but in terms of form, Chelsea have been sixth best over the past eight matches and visitors Wolves fourth, while Man United rank second and the Foxes 14th.
The relegation will be televised
As ever, Chelsea’s Matchday Live show be up on the 5th Stand app well before kick-off, with news and analysis of the starting XIs from a fervently Blue perspective.
Elsewhere, two from Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Watford will be relegated, and Tottenham or Wolves will finish seventh.
Four-match programme available
Remember a special 132-page programme is being produced to cover all four games after the restart and will be sent out after this final home game of the season.
The bumper edition will reflect on all four final matches at the Bridge in one go, and includes your usual favourite features. It is already available to order here.
Premier League fixtures
Sunday (all kick off 4pm UK time) All Sky Sports unless indicatedArsenal v WatfordBurnley v BrightonChelsea v WolvesCrystal Palace v TottenhamEverton v BournemouthLeicester v Man UtdMan City v NorwichNewcastle v Liverpool (BT Sport)Southampton v Sheffield UtdWest Ham v Aston Villa (BT Sport)