From one recently promoted opponent to another, Chelsea follow up the weekend’s 2-0 win over Fulham with a trip to Molineux to face Wolverhampton Wanderers in the league for the first time in nearly six years. Since that January 2012 day when Chelsea won 2-1 thanks to a late Lampard goal, the Blues have beaten Wolves twice, once in each domestic cup, including last season’s 2-0 win in the FA Cup and a 6-0 beatdown in the 2012-13 League Cup.
But this Wolves team is drastically different than those from half a decade ago. Acquired by foreign investors in 2016, Wolves have been built into a contender by the new money, a certain superagent, and a well-bearded manager, Nuno Espirito Santo, who was “born in the crib next to Dom Afonso Henriques” as his former manager at Porto, José Mourinho once proclaimed. Afonso I, the first King of Portugal, was known as Afonso the Conquerer, which is exactly what Nuno’s Wolves did to the Championship last season with a whopping 99 points.
Life in the Premier League started almost as well, with just 1 loss in their first 8 matches, but since the October international break, they’ve collected just 1 point from 18, losing to the likes of Brighton, Huddersfield, and Cardiff City last weekend. Ironically, the one point came away to Arsenal.
That’s not to say that they should be taken lightly — surely, they’re overdue for some points and some luck, as Sarri warned — but Chelsea should be expected to collect all three points here before Saturday’s quick turnaround at home against mighty Manchester City.
Date / Time: Wednesday, 19:45 GMT; 2:45pm EST; 1:15am IST
Venue: Molineux, Wolverhampton, England
Referee: Jonathan Moss — fourth Chelsea game this season for Jonny Moss after the Community Shield, the 3-2 win over Derby in the League Cup, and the 4-1 win over Cardiff City in September. He’s handed out exactly 2 yellow cards in those 270 minutes of football.
Forecast: Rain and cold enough to feel it.
On TV: none (UK); none (USA); Star Sports HD2 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: NBC Sports Gold (USA); Hotstar (India); Chelsea TV (audio only; int’l)
Wolves team news: Little Portugal of the West Midlands will be down one stalwart, as young Ruben Neves serves a one-match suspension for collecting his fifth yellow card over the weekend. Even younger Morgan Gibbs-White could get his first ever Premier League start in his stead — the 18-year-old has made eight substitute appearances in the league so far this season. Wing-back Jonny Otto, recently preferred by Spain ahead of Marcos Alonso continues to miss time due to an injury picked up while being preferred by Spain ahead of Marcos Alonso during the November international break.
Bearded Mourinho believes his team has the character, the work ethic, and the confidence to get through their “bad moment” as they search for a first victory in almost exactly two months.
“We have enough leaders. It’s about us and we’re not going to solve it individually because we shout louder than others. [...] we had a fantastic moment that, now we are in a bad moment, still gives us something to hold onto. It’s not just the beginning of the season, it is last season as well, so we are talking about a lot of hours of work and this is what gives us the confidence to go and perform.”
-Nuno Espirito Santo; source: Express and Star
Chelsea team news: Chelsea’s bad moment was about two hours long rather than two months, but it nonetheless has caused a fair bit of soul-searching and second-guessing and confidence-shaking. Sarri remains solemnly wedded to his principles and tactics of course, and Chelsea’s response to the 3-1 disaster at Wembley has been solid enough: two wins, one each in Europe and the league, six goals, none conceded, with improved mentality and determination to please the head coach.
The Blues are even back in third thanks to Arsenal beating Spurs in the North London Derby over the weekend, although it is rather congested between the London Trio. Separated by just one point, it’s promising to be a tight battle for the last two Champions League spots.
Previously: Pedro and Costa on target in last year’s 2-0 win in the FA Cup.