Ahead of our final Saturday league game of the season, club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton put the spotlight on a fixture they hope will yield three important points…
The second of this season’s dances with Wolves comes at a critical moment in Chelsea’s Premier League run-in and is the first of three fixtures among the final four at Stamford Bridge. It is also the Blues’ 10th 3pm Saturday start, the most recent of which brought six goals at Southampton. Symptomatic of the inconsistency that has derailed our title challenge, though, is the corollary that the last one in SW6 brought a shock 1-4 bashing by Brentford.
A second successive win for Chelsea in front of a crowd reduced by government licence (after the 1-0 against West Ham) would be a timely reversal of form. For much of the season the Blues’ high position has been sustained by imperious work on the road, but last weekend’s loss at Everton (our fourth in a row there), following the draw at Old Trafford, ended a run of 14 undefeated on the road across all competitions.
Visitors Wolverhampton have been comfortably just above mid-table since late November. Two of their remaining fixtures are against Liverpool and Manchester City, however, and they have lost seven of their past 10 league games, including each of the last three.
Chelsea’s past two meetings with the Old Gold have finished 0-0 – including Thomas Tuchel’s first match in charge last season. Never in our league history have Chelsea had three stalemates in a row against the same opponent.
A win today would stretch the Blues’ unbeaten home run in all competitions against Wolves to 11 games, ranging back almost 40 years to August 1982. Wanderers have drawn blanks on six of their past eight visits to the Bridge.
Chelsea team news
With victory over West Ham last time out at Stamford Bridge, the Blues reached 1,200 home points in the Premier League, and a further three on Saturday would take another huge step towards sealing a top-four finish.
Thomas Tuchel may ring the changes for match number 59 after tired minds and muscles were on display at Everton. The Bavarian has already made 114 tweaks to league starting 11s match-to-match (more than any other coach) while drawing on the third-fewest squad members overall.
The Goodison loss showed the inefficiency at both ends that has contributed to dropped points. Over the past seven top-flight games the Blues have averaged 69 per cent possession but (half-a-dozen at St Mary’s aside) just one goal per game. Meanwhile, as our coach admitted, ‘we struggle to play without big mistakes – that's why we struggle to have results.’
In recent weeks pressing even the most experienced Blues defenders has yielded results. By OPTA’s reckoning, over the past two seasons only Everton have committed more errors leading to goals than Chelsea’s 14. (From 2018 to 2020 the figure was six.)
The Blues have collected an impressive 15 clean sheets from 34 matches – the third best in the division – and yet eight of those came in the opening 12 league outings up to late November. In the fixture away against Wolves in December, a Blues side heavily depleted by Covid cases (and with just four outfield players on the bench) played out a stalemate after permission for postponement was not granted.
Hopefully a rare week off will now have recharged players’ batteries, although Thomas Tuchel has reported the game comes too soon for the freshly-coiffured Callum Hudson-Odoi. The forward with the x-factor against resolute defences is back training however. Dynamic midfielder Mateo Kovacic returned for 45 minutes at Goodison but N’Golo Kante, who anchored midfield with Trevoh Chalobah at Molineux, is not ready and Jorginho is also out.
One more top-flight assist for Mason Mount will take him into double figures for making as well as scoring goals this season. Only four previous Chelsea players have achieved that since records began: Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard.
Despite Wolverhampton being seven points better off than at the same stage last season, their head coach Bruno Lage took a glass-half-empty view of some players’ performances last weekend, saying he needed ‘to see that they want to play my game.’
They could yet pip West Ham for seventh place and Europa Conference football but key injuries are totting up: slick wing-back Nelson Semedo will miss the rest of the season along with much-admired centre-back and Chelsea fan Max Kilman.
At their best his side take opponents on and switch the ball fluently across the field with impressive verve, especially with playmakers Pedro Neto and Ruben Neves available. The latter started their 3-0 home defeat by Brighton after six weeks on the sidelines, and their threat level diminished following his half-time substitution.
Also hooked was 19-year-old striker Fabio Silva, starting his fourth game in a row at the expense of misfiring Raul Jimenez. Lage demands aggression from his players and was disappointed with his front three’s application.
Winger Adama Traore, remember, moved on loan to Barcelona in January and the Old Gold have not found the net in their past three fixtures. Only relegated Norwich have had more blank games (19) than the 16 recorded by Wanderers, for whom centre-back Conor Coady is fourth highest marksman with three.
In contrast their defensive record is the fourth best in the league behind Chelsea and the top two. When our two sides met for a Black Country stalemate the week before Christmas, a resolute offside trap meant goalkeeper Jose Sa was barely troubled.
Six Blues shots were blocked, though, notably by Coady on N’Golo Kante’s goalbound stoppage-time effort. That bucked a trend: remarkably, 12 of the 13 away league goals Wolves have conceded have come after the break, and 10 in the final half-hour. They have also lost four of their past five league games on the road.
Race for places
Chelsea dropping eight points from the last 12 available has closed the gap between third and fifth and made finishing the season as London’s leading club less certain. Man United cannot catch the Blues, and beating Wolverhampton would dispel uncertainty and refocus pressure on our neighbours.
Saturday evening takes Tottenham to Liverpool, while Arsenal host relegation-haunted Leeds on Sunday. The north Londoners then square up at Spurs’ stadium on Thursday (the day after the Blues visit Elland Road) for a scuffle that must hurt one or both clubs.
This weekend Chelsea are defending one of our longest top-flight runs without a home loss. Wolverhampton have not won at the Bridge since March 1979, and we have entertained them eight times since then. The Blues’ lengthiest unbeaten sequence until last month was against Brentford, who had not sampled success at the Bridge since 1939 in Division One.
That dishonour now falls to our freshly promoted neighbours Fulham, whose 23-game winless run came after a derby win in March 1964. Final day visitors Watford are the third-furthest-back top-tier victors at the Bridge, dating back to May 1986.
D-day for Women
Chelsea Women’s exhilarating bid for a third successive WSL crown will conclude on Sunday at a sold-out Kingsmeadow, with fourth-placed Manchester United the visitors. The game will be covered live by Sky Sports. Challengers Arsenal play away to West Ham and all games kick off at midday.
Emma Hayes’ side could even make it another league and cup Double next Sunday at Wembley, when they face Manchester City in the Women’s FA Cup final. Click for tickets
Who’s on the up?
This weekend brings the last scheduled fixtures in the Championship. Fulham’s elevation is confirmed, meaning additions to the west London derby roster. Bournemouth, coached by former Blue Scott Parker who took our neighbours down last May, will also return after two seasons in the lower tier.
Sheffield United, Luton, Middlesbrough and Millwall will aim to be among the pair to join Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield in the play-offs. Some Chelsea fans may decide to root for Huddersfield, where two players from our Academy, Tino Anjorin and Levi Colwill, are excelling on loan.