A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s match away to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Chelsea returned from the international break with a Premier League trip to Molineux as they faced Wolverhampton Wanderers. And after an indifferent start to the season, an away match against a team that thrived against the top 6 last season was not necessarily what Frank Lampard would have wanted.
Add to that this match would kick start a tough week for The Blues, with home ties against Valencia and Liverpool coming hot on the heels of this tricky fixture and it could easily turn into a disappointing start to the season.
After all, a repeat of last season’s defeat at Wolves, followed by a loss at home to the early leaders next Sunday and Chelsea would be squandering in the lower reaches of the league on just 5 points from 6 matches.
The more cheery news was that the team’s fairly lengthy injury list is starting to reduce and Frank should be able to choose from more options over the next few weeks.
Antonio Rudiger returned to the starting line up, while Mateo Kovacic, who had suffered a knock whilst playing for Croatia, was also included.
Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James both played for the U23s on Friday evening as they both attempt to regain match fitness after recovering from their injuries.
However, N’Golo Kante is still not fully fit and Emerson Palmieri was also unavailable after struggling thanks to a knock taken while representing Italy during the international break. And it was possibly the absence of the left back which also led to the manager changing his team’s formation.
Rudiger joined both Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori as Frank turned to a 3-4-2-1 set up. Marcos Alonso also made his first start this season on the left flank, while captain Cesar Azpilicueta moved forward to run up and down the right flank.
Jorginho and Kovacic were the engines in midfield, while Mason Mount and Willian sat a little deeper than usual while flanking Tammy Abraham in attack.
This change was clearly utilised to counter some of the recurring issues the team has suffered so far this campaign. 3 centre backs would naturally narrow the gaps and should help plug an overly porous defence, while Azpilicueta is less likely to be targeted defensively if he is playing further forward.
With Kovacic lying deeper in midfield there would be less space in front of the back 3, while both Mount and Willian could play slightly more centrally.
And in the opening quarter of the match the tactic seemed to be working. After all, the hosts hadn’t been able to muster a single attempt on goal in the first 20 minutes.
Unfortunately, neither had The Blues. But there were signs of the visitors starting to edge on top in a very close encounter. After pressing high up the pitch, Chelsea won their first corner of the match.
The low cross was nearly flicked into the goal by Rudiger, who was not only covering everywhere in defence, but a threat in attack at set pieces.
This warning was not heeded by the home side and Tomori showed his teammates how to open the scoring. Wolves looked shellshocked and the outstanding Abraham made it 3-0 to The Blues before half time.
The home side were missing their main defender, thanks to Wily Boly’s red card against Everton last time out, but they were struggling going forward. The pacy Adama Traore looked lively on the right wing early on, but his 2 crosses came to nothing. From then on Alonso and Tomori kept that threat very quiet.
João Moutinho, regularly the creative spark in Wolves’s midfield found little space to manoeuvre surrounded by Jorginho and Kovacic. All this led to Raúl Jiménez, who had already scored 8 goals this season, having a relatively quiet match.
The only downside for Frank Lampard in the first half was that Rudiger needed to be replaced at half time after receiving a knock.
The manager had shown his tactical nouse with the change in formation and, after seeing his midfield struggle in the opening minutes, made slight adjustments to ensure the 2 of them wouldn’t be over run.
His team have struggled at the start of the second half in previous matches, but the manager sent them out more focused and they were rewarded almost instantly as Tammy Abraham completed an impressive hat trick with a run and finish that oozed confidence and class.
Wolves only really started to get into the match after Kepa’s reflex save from a Saiss header was unfortunately deflected into his own goal by Abraham’s arm. Cutrone scored a second but there was still a far too high mountain to climb for the home side.
And in the final minute of added time, Mason Mount made the most of an extremely tired home defence so show off his calmness and ability to seal a very good victory.
Make no mistake, this was a very good victory. The Blues moved up to the same points as 3rd place with quite a statement. They can now head into this busy spell of matches with belief and confidence.
Some will point to more goals conceded, but this match highlighted some far more significant points. The previous matches had epitomised the youthfulness of both the manager and his players.
Frank has only had 1 season in management and still has a lot to learn, as some of his substitutions have previously shown. His team are enthusiastic and exciting to watch, but have also been naive and easily opened up.
But this match was different. Frank’s tactical change and then his in game alterations were rewarded with a commanding score line. From concerns prematch as to how The Blues would fare, to nullifying a quality side and then on to a one sided spell which saw The Blues go 4-0 up.
The headlines were all about the 3 goal scorers but this was a team victory. Willian was back to his best after initially struggling when he returned from injury. Alonso and Azpilicueta were very good down both flanks, while Jorginho and especially Kovacic took the match to the hosts.
There will now be a renewed level of optimism going in to the upcoming fixtures, but do remember that it is still very early in the season and this is a team still conceding far too easily. A season bound to be full of ups and downs clearly enjoyed an up on Saturday. Let’s hope Frank and his players can capitalise and continue in that vain.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue