Wolves played out a hard-earned point against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The game did not make for the best of viewings, but it saw Wolves produce one of their best defensive displays of the season.
The draw sees them climb into 13th place, above their next opponents Crystal Palace and keep their first clean sheet in the league since October.
Chelsea were the headline makers before this game as the news of Frank Lampard’s sacking made the rounds. New boss Thomas Tuchel was on the bench after he was appointed, and the Blues were looking for the proverbial ‘new manager bounce’ with the ex-PSG boss taking the reins.
Wolves, on the other hand, were coming off the back of a largely unimpressive win over Chorley in the FA Cup and in desperate need of at least a point (and maybe, more importantly, a clean sheet). The side are low on confidence which Nuno himself pointed out in his pre-match conference, and they needed to reset and build some sort of foundation to build on.
New signing Willian Jose made the bench after his work permit was granted earlier on the 26th, whilst Daniel Podence was back in the side after a few weeks on the sideline. Chelsea brought Antonio Rudiger back into the fold alongside Jorginho and Cesar Azpilicueta, with Tuchel seemingly going with experience over youth.
The game itself was very much a ‘don’t get beaten’ mentality from Wolves and they applied it with great aplomb throughout the match. For the majority of the first half Chelsea were not able to make use of the triangles and one-two’s that were so effective for Tuchel’s PSG side, but they offered no threat going forward – as was the case with the Chorley game.
Kai Havertz was shut off well again as Ruben Neves and Leander Dendoncker covered the centre spaces efficiently in midfield. Olivier Giroud, a scorer in this season’s pervious contest, was well marked out of the game back Wolves’ back three and displayed an unusual calmness not seen much when up against a bigger, more physical centre forward.
The issues lay with possession retention, with the side struggling to keep hold of any extended period of time with the ball. They were sloppy with their passes and this was the frustration, despite the great defending they pegged themselves back far too often with lackadaisical attacking play.
The same went for Chelsea however, as they were not able to break down the resolute backline of the away side and struggled to produce any incisive forward passes to cut through Wolves’ low block.
The front three for Wolves were struggling with no number nine to play off, and it showed as they were unable to breach the halfway line, let alone create a chance of any substance.
Despite the obvious malnourishment for the forward line to feed off, it was Wolves who created the best chance of the half as Dendoncker head an effort over the bar from around 14 yards out. It was another big chance for the Belgian who is yet to really show his clinical side despite a host of chances this campaign.
Half-time signified the end of an effective half from Wolves, with Nuno’s game plan working well to restore defensive solidity. It was the Wolves we all know too well from previous seasons. Ki-Jana Hoever was brought on for the second period after a knock was taken by Rayan Ait-Nouri.
The second followed the same theme with Chelsea throwing everything at Nuno’s team. Callum Hudson-Odoi was the constant bright spark on the right-hand side but Nelson Semedo, who was solid all game, kept him quiet with an assured defensive display. Wolves were even able to break away through Semedo’s pace and agility.
Pedro Neto, as usual, was the main source of creative spark for Wolves and it was him who almost gave them the lead. Midway through the half, he managed to bundle himself through the Chelsea defence with some wonderful footwork and strength – only to see his chipped effort hit the top of the crossbar.
Christian Pulisic was brought on for Chelsea as they attempted to add more dynamism against a tiring Wolves defence, despite this addition the team still put their bodies on the line and kept them at arms length. Willian Jose also came on for Wolves in an attempt to help the ball stick when booted up from their own half.
Rui Patricio put in a strong performance too, coming out to collect balls with far more confidence than we have seen this season. He also produced a marvellous stop when a shot deflected off Hoever, fortunately for Wolves this was not a repeat of the gut-wrenching loss at Manchester United.
Against the run of play, the old gold and black had another golden chance to win the game as Dendoncker was set through from a brilliant ball by Pedro Neto – but the midfielder mis controlled his touch and Chelsea were able to clear.
Chelsea almost took the lead in the final seconds as a Kai Havertz header looked destined for the far corner, but it was the substitute debutant Willian Jose who threw himself in the way to deflect it over and preserve a crucial point.
Man of the Match – Nelson Semedo
This was genuinely a tough choice as there were some good displays, but for me, I think Nelson Semedo deserves some credit. He was virtually flawless defensively and in the first half offered a good outlet to break out from defence with. Whilst his forward contributions were limited in the second half his defensive positional play was far better than we’ve seen, and he dealt well with the threats of Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic comfortably. He was even switched from the right side to the left and still looked comfortable on both flanks. Pedro Neto was a very close one alongside Willy Boly, but the fullback deserved praise for this performance, easily one of his best defensively.
A start, a foundation, a moment to reset. Those are the overall feelings after this game. It was a brilliant defensive performance and whilst not easy on the eye, it allowed the team to regain some defensive confidence and create a platform for them to kick on. The addition of Willian Jose and the reintroduction of Daniel Podence will lift the side, as well as Jonny who is close to coming back from injury. Many will question if the team has enough going forward, but for me, that test will be answered against Crystal Palace – a team which Wolves have a good record against. For now, this result is very welcome.