Wolves 2 Chelsea 5
On a day when some of the most familiar names of the five decades returned to Molineux, Wolves produced a very unfamiliar performance as they were humiliated by Chelsea.
Nuno Espirito Santo has built his Wolves team from solid foundations over the last 26 months. But the defence looked as robust as one of the dozens of paper aeroplanes that cascaded down from the South Bank in the second half.
With unfortunate irony on a day when 130 years of footballing history was being celebrated at Molineux, Chelsea brought to an end a 15-match unbeaten home record stretching back to January 2. That it was also in front of the biggest home crowd for 38 and a half years is barely the scantest crumb of consolation.
Statistically, it was their biggest defeat under Nuno and Wolves’ heaviest for three years and a day, since a 4-0 home defeat to Barnsley, as Tammy Abraham – a January target for Nuno – hit a hat-trick to extend Wolves’ run without a Premier League win to six matches, equalling a low under Nuno.
A defensive trio which showed two changes including a League debutant and a back five showing three were no match for Abraham, who cruelly exposed captain Conor Coady for his second and third goal, while the skipper was too easily beaten by Mason Mount in the build-up to Abraham’s first.
It’s now eight goals leaked in the last two games and if Wolves’ defence was unconvincing and sloppy at Everton, it was downright shoddy against Chelsea. The labouring Coady, whose record of playing every minute of every game in a run now standing at 76 matches in all competitions, looked shellshocked and bewildered; as if he had no answer why he could not get to where he wanted to be to make the necessary challenges.
Alongside him, Jesus Vallejo looked every inch the nervous debutant at times rather than the accomplished Spain Under-21s captain that has flourished in a Real Madrid team and played in three top European leagues. All of which only further highlights Nuno’s controversial decision to drop Ryan Bennett from the entire squad.
The head coach’s explanation that it’s about the ‘right profile and the shape of the team, so Boly, Saiss, Max on the left, and Jesus, Bennett and Dion Sanderson on the right’ is at odds with recent quotes from Vallejo saying he was happy to play in any of the three defensives positions. It also suggests a change of tack from Nuno, who started last season playing Romain Saiss as the right-sided centre back only to abandon the plan when the Moroccan’s performances there were unconvincing.
It’s impossible to think Wolves wouldn’t have improved if the suspended Willy Boly had been available. They defended poorly with him for Everton’s goals but without him, they lacked strength, power and organisation, particularly with Coady so uncharacteristically out of sorts and unusually exposed.
Some fans are speculating that Wolves have been ‘found out’, or it’s a combination of that and the so-called ‘second season syndrome’. I’m not sure it’s either. If anything, Wolves should be better equipped to handle this level having had 12 months’ experience of it, while at five games, even allowing for six additional matches in Europe so far, it’s still too early to assess the other assumption.
Looking so frail, vulnerable and void of confidence at the back, Wolves didn’t enjoy their usual platform to build attacks going forwards. The only time they looked a danger to Chelsea in the first half was when Adama Traore produced a dazzling run to set up Diogo Jota, but the striker delayed his shot on the turn when a first-time attempt was needed and the chance was lost.
Chelsea took the lead in the 31st minute when the unmarked Fikayo Tomori, making only his fourth appearance in blue, received a pass deflected by Diogo Jota and unleashed a tremendous shot from 30 yards which curled away from Rui Patricio into the top corner of the net. It was a spectacular effort from the defender, but a goalkeeper of Patricio’s standing should really have got closer to it.
Three minutes later it was 2-0 when Tomori jinked through the defence unmarked before picking out Mount just inside the box. The Chelsea midfielder’s first touch took him past Coady, who had committed himself too early, and Mount went down. But before the referee could decide on his penalty appeal, Abraham pounced on the loose ball and turned and fired past Patricio.
A dreadful first half for Wolves was complete when Chelsea scored a third goal foyr minutes before the break. Vallejo met Jorginho’s deep cross with an unconvincing far-post header which fell straight to Marcus Alonso, who curled the ball back into the danger area for Abraham, who got in front of Coady eight yards out to head home his second goal of the game.
Three-nil down, the parade of legends at half-time was a much more muted, almost apologetic affair than it might have been. In fact it mirrored the disjointed nature of Wolves’ performance as Andy Thompson appeared some time later than the other nine long servants of the club, with Phil Parkes, Geoff Palmer, Derek Parkin, John McAlle, Mike Bailey, Kenny Hibbitt, Steve Bull, Andy Mutch and Robbie Dennison already having walked to the centre of the pitch by the time ‘Thommo’ appeared.
Not surprisingly, Nuno changed things at half-time, bringing on Patrick Cutrone for the ineffective Leander Dendncker, which saw Jota drop deeper, into Dendoncker’s position on inside right of the midfield.
Wolves started the second half on the front foot, with Ruben Neves firing narrowly wide from distance. But despite the improvement from Wolves, it was Chelsea who remained far more clinical in the final third and they made it 4-0 when Abraham ran at Coady before taking the ball round him and firing a low, angled shot into the bottom corner of the net to complete his first Premier League hat-trick.
Wolves responded by swapping Traore for Matt Doherty at right wing back and the Irishman looked rejuvenated following his recent struggles.
Moments later, Cutrone was inches away from diverting in Jota’s driven centre, the ball falling to Jimenez who hooked into the side netting from an acute angle.
The home side continued to press and they gave themselves a glimmer of hope with 20 minutes left when Romain Saiss rose highest to direct a downward header past Kepa from Joao Moutinho’s outwinging corner. It was his second successive goal following his effort at Everton.
Morgan Gibbs-White came on for Raul Jimenez to allow Jota to return to the attack. And the youngster looked lively, always looking to probe Chelsea’s defence with some much-needed energy and drive that had been missing for so long in the game.
With five minutes of normal time remaining, Cutrone was rewarded for a hardworking performance with his first goal in Wolves colours after Neves picked out Doherty with an excellent pass and his angled volley was parried by Kepa to allow the Italian to prod in from close range.
But if home fans thought the comeback was under way, they were sadly mistaken. Wolves ran out of steam and failed to create anything more to trouble Chelsea. And instead it was Frank Lampard’s side who broke on the counter to score a fifth goal in the final minute of the six minutes of time added on. Mount received a square pass from substitute Michy Batshuayi, turned inside Vallejo far too easily, and curled neatly past Patricio.
It left Wolves still without a win the Premier League, and clearly much needs to improve if they are to climb the table. But there is also a juggling act to do for the coaching staff, with four games in 10 days looming, starting with the Europa League group stage opener at home to Braga on Thursday.
Hopefully, these unfamiliar defensive errors can be ironed out to be returned by that renowned meanness we have come to expect over the last two years. Over to you, Nuno!
Wolves: Patricio; Vallejo, Coady, Saiss; Traore (Doherty 57), Neves, Dendoncker (Cutrone 46), Moutinho, Jonny; Jimenez (Gibbs-White 71), Jota.
Unused subs: Ruddy, Kilman, Vinagre, Neto.
Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Rudiger (Zouma 46), Christensen, Tomori, Alonso, Jorginho, Kovacic (Barkley 71), Willian, Mount, Abraham (Batshauyi 77).
Unused subs: Caballero, Pulisic, Pedro, Giroud.
Referee: Graham Scott