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Wolves 0-0 Chelsea, Premier League: Tactical Analysis

Nebulous performance

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Chelsea - Premier League
A game that should never have been played
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Even with a fully fit squad, a trip to Molineux would have been a difficult fixture. Just to illustrate how resolute their defending can be, Manchester City needed a penalty in order to beat 10-man Wolves, 1-0 just last Saturday, and a fortnight ago, Liverpool only scraped out a 1-0 win in the fourth minute of added time. And City and Liverpool both did it with squads that were virtually all fit.

Due to injuries and COVID, Chelsea arrived to this match extremely light, with an overworked starting XI and just six players on the bench, only five of whom were fit — and two of those were goalkeepers!

While Tuchel was able to find enough fitness to field a team which should have been capable, in normal circumstances, to outclass Wolves, these were hardly normal circumstances.

Starting XI’s

For the second time in 64 hours, Christian Pulisic spearheaded an attack flanked by Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech. While the three performed admirably over the weekend and sparked the creativity that led to a 3.54 xG against Everton, they were unable to hit the same highs against Wolves. Their flat 3-5-2 lineup essentially suffocated any forward momentum we could muster.

In fact, the play in the first half was about as murky as the weather, and the true ‘highlights’ were limited to their goal rightly ruled out for offsides — just VAR taking far too long to do so — and some decent Chelsea possession that didn’t really test the opposition goal.

It took far too long to get this call right

Of note in the first half for Chelsea was the 35th minute injury scare to both Trevoh Chalobah, who had only been in two training sessions since returning from injury, and Thiago Silva, who is playing unbelievable football but being forced into way too many minutes. Although both would carry on to the halftime whistle, Saúl would replace Chalobah for the second period.

Saúl played a deeper midfield role than he has been, and he actually had a decent game as the Jorginho-esque regista. His distribution was versatile, his movement was opening up outlets for passes, his control in tight spaces was improved, and he was effective at breaking up Wolves’ patterns of play and cutting off channels for both their forward runs and passes.

Aside from his one nearly grave error at the turn of the 75th minute, he showed more today than he has to this point in a Chelsea shirt.

Saúl had a great game but one bad turnover

The turnover was a result of a heavy touch and the pressure from Raúl Jiménez, gifting the ball to Rúben Neves with a large gap and numbers getting forward for Wolves.

But as he has done countless times not just in this game but throughout his 1.5 years at Chelsea, Thiago Silva showed his veteran guile to expertly cut off the passing lane to Daniel Podence, who was Wolves’ greatest threat on the day.

Silva arriving on a free transfer continues to be some of our best business in recent years and the air of calm he provides to most defensive situations is a pleasure to behold.

Chelsea grew into the game in the second half, helped tremendously by Saúl dictating the play from deep. Still, we were finding it difficult to get shots from threatening positions, with our shot-creating actions very low and most of them ending up blocked.

Only thirteen total shot creating actions, 6 blocked
FB ref

Our greatest chance and only shot on target came from a quick transition from our end to theirs via a great long ball from Saúl.

Picking it up from Mendy and working a triangle with Rüdiger and Mateo Kovačić, who had just replaced Hakim Ziyech to make his 100th appearance for the club, Saúl sees the overload down the wing from the runs of Marcos Alonso and N’Golo Kanté. Kanté had been freed up to play a much more advanced role after the introduction of Saúl and was doing a great job of linking play to our forwards. When the ball arrives to Saúl, he already knows what he is going to do, and his first-time ball up the line is won by Kanté’s and Alonso’s overload.

Saúl finds Kanté and Alonso on the left

The eventual shooter (and our striker on the day) is not even in the picture at this point. He had dropped deep but now burst into space that was at a premium all day long thanks to Wolves’ strict and disciplined flat back-five.

Pulisic caught some slack on the day, but actually does very well to make this chance

As Pulisic runs through, he receives a perfectly timed and well weighted pass from Alonso in stride. The defensive cover does well, however, and despite a good first touch, Pulisic is forced to his left and weaker shooting foot. Even still, he does well to get off a decent shot, only to be denied by goalkeeper José Sá’s outstretched left hand. (Ed.note: should’ve gone low, CP, between the legs!)

Sá was quite impressive on the day both in the net and with his distribution. In fact, his 80.3 save percentage is highest in the Premier League this season — Mendy coming in at 78.6.

Chelsea pushed for a late winner, but were unable to create any more clear cut chances, while Wolves survived a questionable tackle/block by Connor Coady on Kanté in teh penalty area in the final moments, which wasn’t even reviewed by VAR.

The standard of refereeing and the inconsistent application of laws remains a glaring blight on the Premier League and its claim to be the best league in the world. Multiple decision made in this game, and other games over the weekend, were abysmal, just as they have been all season.

About as clear as they come

And all that is leaving alone the fact that the game shouldn’t have even been played! The ambiguous and arbitrary way in which the Premier League have been determining which games to postpone and which games to force to go ahead take little account of player welfare and health, contrary to their stated claims.

We did get to witness another great performance from Silva, the first promising appearance from Saúl, and have started to see a return to fitness for our preferred midfielders. We kept a clean sheet and held Wolves to 4 shots and only one on target. The festive fixtures are scheduled to go on as planned, so although COVID has hit the squad, injuries are on the decline and clean sheets on the rise — so at least a couple things are trending in the right direction.


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