Only Spurs have beaten Chelsea this season and only Everton and West Ham have prevented Sarri’s side from scoring. Naturally, coming into the game off the back of six-game winless run, it looks rather ominous for Nuno Santo’s side. On the flipside, Wolves tend to raise their game against the ‘bigger’ sides as draws against Man City, Man United and Arsenal prove. We could argue until we’re blue in the face about why that is, my two cents is, does it all boil down to motivation? Are the players that bothered about a Friday night in Cardiff? Or a Sunday afternoon against Huddersfield? As a professional footballer, surely you should be as raring to go against Dog & Duck FC as well as the champions.
Of course, it’s not always that black and white, nonetheless, if we get a positive result (don’t lose) against Chelsea tonight and then lose to Newcastle and Bournemouth, it all points to that. Yes, we’ll be able to play our counter-attacking style of football more so against Chelsea than the other two, though that’s not a valid excuse. Maybe the first time against Watford, it could have been used as an excuse. It definitely can’t be used as an excuse again nearly two months later (which it will be after the Bournemouth game). In this article, what we’re going to do is preview the Premier League clash, between, you guessed it, Wolves & Chelsea. Let’s stop beating around the bush and crack on.
Belief In A System
Probably the biggest similarity that Nuno and Sarri have is their belief in what they do. Nuno with his 3-4-3 which has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks. Sarri with his high-pressing 4-3-3 which followed him from Napoli. Much like Nuno’s 3-4-3, Sarri’s system is not without its faults as Spurs demonstrated recently. In fact, Alonso’s tendency to operate more so as a wing-back in a four can leave Chelsea very open at times. On the contrary, Alonso is perhaps one of Chelsea’s most effective players going forward (asides from the usual suspects) and it’s down to Wolves’ wing-backs, namely Doherty, to manage him accordingly.
Interestingly, the only time Chelsea have played a side away from home that has a remotely similar system to ours in the Premier League was way back in August when they travelled to St James’ Park to face Benitez’ Newcastle. If you can recall that game, Newcastle defended admirably without doing a fat lot else before Eden Hazard put the Blues ahead from the spot. The Toon Army then burst into life and looked set to claim an unlikely point after Joselu bagged the equaliser. Sometimes though, it’s not meant to be as DeAndre Yedlin put through his own goal to give Chelsea all three points. It’s that game that we are going to look at because Newcastle stifled Sarri’s side for long parts of the game.
Patience Is A Virtue
Newcastle had roughly 18% of the ball against Chelsea as Sarri’s side put them on the back foot for the majority of the game. Regardless of that fact, Newcastle pressed them high enough to make sure they won the ball back and had the opportunity to counter against Chelsea. Let me show you two examples of how Newcastle’s shape and patience enabled them against the London side.
As is evidenced by their rigid shape, Newcastle’s midfield four are not overly concerned by the positions of Chelsea’s trio of Jorginho, Kovacic and Kante. They are sticking to their own game and shape rather than allowing the aforementioned triangle to dictate where they go.
From the first image, David Luiz plays the ball to Rudiger as Newcastle’s reluctance to press means Chelsea’s options are limited. Kovacic then comes deep to pick the ball off Rudiger before playing it into Jorginho. As soon as it’s obvious that the ball is going into Jorginho, Ki Sung-yeung breaks the midfield line to win the ball back. Only a lack of confidence from Newcastle on the attacking front means they waste possession. Why’s this important? If Wolves’ two inside forwards make a four with the two central midfielders and maintain their discipline, Chelsea will struggle to break the line.
Inside Forwards Will Have To Work Hard
Ritchie makes the back five a six while Murphy maintains his position alongside the midfield pairing of Dembele and Sung-yeung. If we use Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa as examples, they’re going to have work non-stop to make sure the Wolves defensive and midfield lines aren’t left exposed against Chelsea’s swift play. Once more, after the play progresses, Newcastle wait for the right moment before pressing.
After pouncing on the pass from Jorginho, Newcastle race down the other end and force a throw-in in the final third. One thing to note is Alonso’s position and the incredible amount of space he’s got. He’s seemingly on the blindside of DeAndre Yedlin and if Jorginho lifted his head up and switched the play, Chelsea would have been well and truly in the driving seat. Reiterating an earlier point, Alonso must be watched at all times, especially in the above situations as one switch can change it. Hazard, of course, is undoubtedly their biggest threat, but as long as the lines remain compact and disciplined, we should be fine.
Let’s turn our attention to the goal Newcastle scored and see what, if any, weaknesses it shows that Chelsea have.
It was a simple punt upfield from Newcastle’s keeper which started the move which resulted in the equaliser. Yedlin then put a pin-point ball in the box, Joselu moved, Luiz didn’t and it was 1-1. See below.
Now, for all of the stick that I give Doherty from a defensive standpoint, there’s no denying his ability in the final third of the pitch. It’s not difficult to imagine Doherty putting a similar ball into the box like the one we can see Yedlin doing above, Jimenez moving in front of Luiz and goooooal. Luiz, for all his ability on the ball, can be questionable at times defensively and it’s down to Wolves to give him hell. It can be done.
We would take a look at Chelsea’s goals from the same game but the first was a penalty and the second took a deflection, so we’ll move on.
For sure, one of Chelsea’s biggest collective talents is their ability to score late, late goals. They’ve scored 12 of their 30 goals between 75-90 minutes and to give you some idea, the second highest number of goals scored during a 15-minute spell is five. Wolves can’t switch off at any point as Chelsea will capitalise. On the other hand, Chelsea have conceded their highest number of goals (three) between 45-60 minutes. Irrespective of that, Sarri’s side have the third best defence in the Premier League which means that when/if Wolves get a big chance, it must be taken.
Shall we have some team news? Go on then.
With Ruben Neves suspended, the big question is, who will replace him? Leander Dendoncker should be the obvious answer, not only because he’s the best player we’ve got in back-up, but also because he’s trained with Eden Hazard for Belgium on numerous occasions. As you can see from the above, SofaScore believe it will be Morgan Gibbs-White partnering Joao Moutinho while Romain Saiss continues over Ryan Bennett. Personally, I think Bennett will return to the back three and Saiss will play alongside Joao. Playing Gibbs-White would be a very, very bold move. Who plays behind Jimenez is also up for debate, again, SofaScore thinks Jota and Traore, I’d disagree. Jota and Cavaleiro would be my choice, Nuno will probably go for Jota and Costa.
Chelsea have got Man City to face at the weekend so will we see Sarri rotating his troops? The back five including the keeper pretty much picks itself, the only spots up for debate are one of the three central midfield spots, Loftus-Cheek, Fabregas, Kovacic and Barkley all competing there. The central-forward position, Giroud or Morata and finally, the wide-right position which will likely be contested between Pedro and Willian.
Do Wolves have any right to win this game? Probably not. Is it possible that Wolves will? Perhaps. One can only hope that Sarri’s side are distracted by the City game and don’t give it their all tonight. That’s hard to imagine though as Sarri is quite the taskmaster. You have to live in hope as a Wolves fan that Nuno’s side seek inspiration from their impressive performances against Arsenal, City and United and manage to get a point or maybe even go one better and win. Here’s hoping.
Until the next time.
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