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Chelsea at Wolverhampton: Game Preview

Also, if someone could kick this man very hard I would enjoy that quite a lot.
Also, if someone could kick this man very hard I would enjoy that quite a lot.

Alright, so now that we've tumbled off the peak of high expectations and are hurtling at breakneck speed towards the fetid swamps of Bolton, a curious thing is happening. No, it's not that Chelsea are slowly sapping my will to live, nor do I exist in mortal fear of lowly Wolverhampton ruining my Wednesday. What's happening is that instead of stressing out and tensing up whenever an opponent even sniffs our half, I'm actually starting to enjoy football games of the non 6-0 victory kind. Ciaran Clark scores in injury time to deny Chelsea? More amazing than annoying (still quite annoying, though). Birmingham are outshot 1.87x1016 to one against the Blues and win? How very remarkable! No heart attacks at all!

I suppose what I'm saying is that with the team on the edges of the race and no longer anywhere near title favourites, football in and of itself is fun again. I realise that's not a popular opinion, and of course I don't like the team to play badly, but the misery of the past two months has made the game itself sort of transcend the results for this year. We probably aren't winning the league, and that's totally fine. Chelsea fans are amazingly privileged in that we get to expect to win the Premier League every season, along with similar demands for deep Champions League runs and at least one of the FA and Carling Cups. These expectations can make the matches cauldrons of stress, but we've been expelled from the Carling Cup already and the Premier League crown appears destined to go elsewhere. It's not like we're getting relegated or even finishing outside the CL places, so all in all it makes for a sort of liberation of hope when watching.

Anyway, Wolves. Chelsea played them at Stamford Bridge in October and came out fairly comfortable 2-0 winners, although Mick McCarthy's relegation-threatened side gave the Blues a little more trouble than expected (although not as much as they gave Liverpool at Anfield). This time, look for another three points. Chelsea have never failed to beat Wolves in the Premier League, and the gulf in talent is beyond vast. Although the home side will be strengthened by the inclusion of Kevin Doyle, Branislav Ivanovic's return following suspension should nullify that little threat, leaving Wolves with very little in the way of a cutting edge.

In the reverse fixture, Wolves started the game keeping ten men behind the ball whenever Chelsea were in possession, meaning that it was fairly difficult to transition from defence to attack with any sort of speed. After the first half, which Chelsea did reasonably well in, Stephen Hunt was introduced and deployed very high up the left flank, which opened up another outlet and stretched the back line, especially as Jose Bosingwa was playing in the match and was often caught out far too high up the pitch. With the more defensive-minded Ferreira presumably starting, advanced wide midfielders are less likely to make a significant impact on the game for the home side.

Chelsea have some questions of their own in the attack, especially with the form of Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba. While Drogba's months of misery can be at least partially explained by the malaria business, Anelka seems to have completely lost the ability to be useful in any way, shape, or form. This, of course, is a serious problem, as Anelka's movement and speed are two incredibly useful tools in Chelsea's attack, and being unable to use them simply allowed the defence to clamp down far harder on the likes of Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard, who generally arrive on the left. Without Drogba at full fitness to keep them honest, Anelka is becoming a major liability. It would be nice if he could demonstrate some sort of influence on the game, even if he's not scoring.

Regardless of Chelsea's problems, they're still heavy favourites against Wolves, and they should be expected to win reasonably comfortably. However, it's no longer life and death for them to do so - they've failed, and the season is already more or less dead. So as fans, let's just sit back, relax, and enjoy! We'll check on on the fretting once we get back to within touching distance of the leaders.

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