It was a miserable afternoon at Stamford Bridge as Wolves’ league season came to a long-awaited end with a 2-0 defeat against Chelsea. Mason Mount’s impressive free-kick was quickly followed up by in-form striker Olivier Giroud capitalising on poor defending before the break to ensure Chelsea will be playing Champions League football next season. The result means that Wolves’ Europa League hopes now lie in the hands of the side who beat them on the final day of the season, with Chelsea needing to overcome Arsenal in the FA Cup Final for Wolves to enter the Europa League at the Second Qualifying stage for the second consecutive season.
Chelsea 2-0 Wolves Reaction
Chelsea (3-4-3): Caballero, Azpilicueta, Zouma, Rudiger, James, Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso, Pulisic, Giroud, Mount (Subs Used; Hudson-Odoi, Abraham, Pedro, Loftus-Cheek, Barkley)
Wolves (3-4-3): Patricio, Boly, Coady, Saiss, Doherty, Dendoncker, Neves, Jonny, Neto, Jimenez, Jota (Subs Used: Traore, Moutinho, Vinagre, Podence, Jordao)
There was certainly an element of surprise at Nuno’s team selection with Moutinho, Podence and Traore all dropping to the bench. Romain Saiss came back into the defence meaning Leander Dendoncker was pushed into midfield. Diogo Jota and Pedro Neto were the preferred wingers ahead of the in-form Podence and Traore. Some thought that Pedro Neto had been brought into the side to adopt the central attacking role behind Jota and Jimenez, seen several times this season, but that was not the case with Neto and Jota playing either side of the Mexican forward. Chelsea matched Wolves with a 3-4-3 formation, but the big team news from the Bridge being the change of goalkeeper, with £80m shot-stopper Kepa replaced by Willy Caballero. Christian Pulisic was also brought back into the side following his impressive substitute display in the Blues’ 5-3 defeat at Anfield on Wednesday night, a defeat which meant they needed at least a point against Wolves to secure Champions League football next season.
Wolves started well and were comfortable in possession without creating any real opportunities. Matt Doherty was played in behind and beat Antonio Rudiger but could not get the ball across goal with three men waiting at the far post. Olivier Giroud headed over from Mason Mount’s cross shortly after in a first half where clear cut opportunities were few and far between. Both managers would have been satisfied with how they first half had played out but first-half stoppage time would drastically change the feelings of both Lampard and Nuno. Chelsea were awarded a free-kick as Pedro Neto pulled out of a challenge with Marcos Alonso just outside the penalty area. It was an extremely harsh decision but Mount stepped up and curled the free kick over the wall and past Patricio for the opener, a bitter blow to the away side who would have been aware that Tottenham were leading at Crystal Palace, meaning sixth spot was no longer in their hands. Just to add salt to the wound, Chelsea added a second before the break which, in all honesty, put the game beyond Wolves. If Wolves could have done nothing to stop the first, they could have done just about anything to stop the second and the Chelsea front three capitalised on some extremely poor defending to extend the lead.
There was very little goalmouth action in the second half, with Diogo Jota offering a glimmer of hope as he broke forward, but his tame shot was straight at Caballero. Nuno made four relatively early substitutions with Adama Traore coming on at half time to replace the lively Pedro Neto. He was soon joined by Joao Moutinho, Ruben Vinagre and Daniel Podence but they could do little to fashion any real opportunities and Chelsea saw the game out relatively comfortably. Bruno Jordao got his long-awaited Premier League debut, replacing Diogo Jota with five minutes remaining, but he had little chance to make an impact. In truth, the game had been put beyond Wolves at the end of the first half, but news of a Crystal Palace equaliser against Tottenham brought a glimmer of hope that a top six finish may be achievable. Unfortunately, a Palace winner was not forthcoming, and while Wolves will count themselves extremely unlucky to have fallen behind when they did, they could have done so much more to get the result they needed. A poor performance, a bitterly disappointing result but overall, a superb season which is far from over. Nuno stated after the game that the players will have a well-earned two-day break before the preparations begin for Wolves Europa League Round of 16-second leg against Olympiacos at Molineux a week on Thursday.
Chelsea 2-0 Wolves Key Moments
Mason Mount Goal
It was an unfortunate moment as Wolves’ first half work was undone by a combination of weak officiating and sheer brilliance from Mason Mount. Pedro Neto goes in to challenge for the ball with Marcos Alonso and having realised he has gone in with his foot raised, he pulls away, but Alonso goes down and wins the free kick despite replay’s showing very little contact. Full credit to Mount, however, who stepped up and beat Patricio from 25 yards with a brilliant free kick to give Chelsea the lead. However, Wolves had every reason to feel aggrieved.
Still evidently upset at the decision which handed Chelsea the chance to take the lead, Conor Coady’s aimless free-kick was won back inside the Chelsea half allowing the home side to break quickly through the lively Pulisic who found Mount to play a brilliant ball through to Giroud, taking Romain Saiss out of the game. The French international rounded Patricio but it looked for all the world like Coady would clear. However, the Wolves captain opted to try and block Giroud off. He easily outmuscled Coady and finished into the open goal. It was an extremely poor goal to concede and made Wolves’ task in the second half almost impossible
Chelsea 2-0 Wolves Man of the Match – Leander Dendoncker
It was an afternoon of average and below-par performances from Wolves but just about the best came from Leander Dendoncker. Switched back into midfield having impressed in the back three in the win over Crystal Palace on Monday night, Dendoncker proved to be an effective physical presence in the middle of the park, breaking up Chelsea’s difficult fluid movement through the centre of the pitch. He also tried to support attacks where possible as Wolves looked to get back into the game. Dendoncker is often hailed as an unsung hero at Molineux but has certainly gained his plaudits since the re-start and is proving his value to Nuno’s squad. With rumours of the Belgium international moving abroad this summer, his recent performances will make Wolves think twice about accepting any tempting bids.
Things to Improve
A familiar theme in recent week and Wolves’ lack of concertation once again let them down at Stamford Bridge. Wolves struggled to get over the poor decision to award Chelsea a free-kick which led to the opening goal and ultimately set them on the way to victory. In losing their concentration after the goal, Wolves made an array of uncharacteristic mistakes which ultimately gave them an uphill task in the second half. The decision to send the free-kick long into an area congested with Chelsea players just a minute prior to the half time whistle was just the catalyst in Wolves’ downfall. They were then carved open in a quick move with Romain Saiss caught in no man’s land out of position before Coady failed to deal with Olivier Giroud when it appeared, he had gained control of the threatening situation. Unlucky to fall behind yes, but Wolves did themselves no favours in losing concentration and ultimately handing Chelsea a two-goal advantage.
The Starting XI
Nuno may well be a magician, but he is certainly not immune from making mistakes and for the second time in recent weeks, Wolves did not set up with the most suited eleven for the job. Having beat Wolves convincingly in the return fixture earlier in the season, it is clear that Frank Lampard has an idea on how to play against Wolves and Nuno’s system, but Wolves looked devoid of ideas going forward and at times were left light in the midfield. The decision to drop Joao Moutinho after his impressive midweek performance was questionable to say the least, while the out of form Diogo Jota was selected ahead of the impressive Daniel Podence. Had Wolves started with three in midfield, they would have had a much greater chance at winning the midfield battle, with Podence and Jimenez upfront being able to attack the Chelsea back three in central areas.
So, Wolves must wait until the FA Cup Final next Saturday to find out their European fate for the second successive season. It is perfectly understandable that some Wolves fans are disappointed not to achieve a top-six finish, particularly with the position they were in when the league re-started. However, at times it is perfectly acceptable to add a sense of perspective. A second consecutive top-seven finish with the addition of an impressive Europa League run is yet another incredibly successful season under Nuno. Mistakes were made along the way, Wolves also had a great deal of misfortunate particularly with questionable VAR calls throughout the season but have once again proved the doubters wrong and may well be playing European football again next season.
Ciaran Barker is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team – you can follow him on Twitter here.