Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanderers took to the pitch at Stamford Bridge in the final round of the 2019/20 Premier League season on Sunday, in a contest that meant a lot to both teams.
Sitting in fourth place, Chelsea needed a point here to secure Champions League involvement next season and were likely to keep an eye on the happenings at the King Power Stadium, where fifth-place Leicester City hosted third-place Manchester United.
On the other hand, Wolves came to London in sixth, only a point above Tottenham Hotspur, which meant they were probably keeping tabs on what went on at Selhurst Park where Spurs played away to Crystal Palace.
Chelsea boss Frank Lampard couldn’t count on defender Fikayo Tomori, as well as midfielders N’Golo Kante and Billy Gilmour. Interestingly enough, he decided to leave Kepa Arrizabalaga, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, on the bench.
Willy Caballero stood between the posts. Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and captain Cezar Azpilicueta formed a three-man back line, with wing-backs Marcos Alonso and Reece James covering the flanks, and Jorginho alongside Mateo Kovacic in central midfield. Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic supported Olivier Giroud in attack.
Nuno Espirito Santo had the full squad to choose from, and here’s how he lined his men up.
Rui Patricio was in goal. Captain Conor Coady commanded the defence where he was joined by Willy Boly and Romain Saiss. Ruben Neves paired up with Leander Dendoncker in the middle of the park, and they were flanked by wing-backs Jonny Oto and Matt Doherty. Raul Jimenez led the line upfront, with Diogo Jota and Pedro Neto in support.
Neither team rushed forward too rashly early on. Both maintained discipline and kept their shape, with the ball changing possession rather frequently.
It was the visitors who threatened first in the fifth minute as Doherty took advantage of Alonso dropping off and beat Rudiger coming into the box from the right, but Zouma was quick to come across and prevented his cut-back from finding an orange shirt.
Chelsea kept their patience and tried to organize themselves going forward, but the Wolves’ high press often prevented them from getting very far and they resorted to looking for Giroud with a long ball on more than one occasion. As time went on, Pulisic looked to get involved more and in the 12th minute, he won a free-kick wide on the left which Mount swung into the box and James headed wide.
Another calm period followed, with the greatest excitements coming after Jota escaped Azpilicueta on the left only to be stopped by the retreating Kovacic, and Pulisic overhitting a through pass and making it impossible for Giroud to catch up at the other end.
Just past the half-hour mark, Zouma clashed with Jimenez in the air and both players required medical assistance before they could continue playing. The Wolves striker was fouled a few times more in a short time afterwards, but referee Stuart Atwell decided against booking anyone from the home team at that point.
In the 37th minute, Pulisic broke down the middle and employed Alonso on the left, but the wing-back’s shot from the edge of the box was blocked. Chelsea threatened again soon as Mount swung in a cross from the right towards Giroud, but the Frenchman’s header went wide of the target.
Wolves seemed to be lacking some attacking drive from the midfield. Neither Neves nor Dendocker were creating much, and Jimenez was often forced to drop very deep to get things going, which in turn left his team without a focal point upfront as Neto and Jota mostly stayed out wide.
In the 43rd minute, a cross by Jonny went astray and almost curled into the net, forcing Caballero into an important save. Then a long diagonal from Rudiger found the run of James in behind the Wolves defence, but James took too much time and allowed Boly to thwart his attempt to locate Giroud in the middle of the box.
Chelsea had a great free-kick opportunity in the first minute of stoppage time and quite suddenly, the deadlock was broken. Mount curled it very accurately over the wall, giving Patricio no chance to stop it.
The visitors seemed too relaxed in what remained of the first half and the Blues punished them severely. Pulisic again instigated the move with a mazy run through the middle, and eventually Mount threaded a fine pass in behind for Giroud. The former Arsenal man reached the ball ahead of Patricio and went around the ‘keeper. Coady managed to get himself between the striker and the ball at one moment, but Giroud was extremely cunning and reacted with great presence of mind to win the ball back and slam into the gaping net from close range.
Given what happened in the final minutes of the first half, Wolves needed to change something quickly and Neto stayed in the dressing room to make way for Adama Traore.
The game picked up on pace in the opening minutes of the second half, as Espirito Santo clearly intended. Chelsea now established some domination in terms of possession and spent more time in the opposition half than before, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing for them with a player like Traore now to reckon with. The newcomer looked very lively straight away and there were a few moments when the Blues’ defence had to stay extremely focused.
But Chelsea still pushed forward, looking to kill the game off and in the 54th minute, Mount broke into the box from the left and pulled it back for Pulisic, who was eventually dispossessed by Boly. It was only a brief respite, however, and Chelsea continued attacking, but Jota nicely turned around Jorginho two minutes later, charged down the middle and let one fly from just outside the box, forcing another save from Caballero.
Espirito Santo made further changes at that point. Doherty, Neves and Jonny made way for Ruben Vinagre, Joao Moutinho and Daniel Podence.
Wolves managed to establish balance in the game after that, but they still couldn’t create much and Chelsea were very comfortable with what went on. Traore was still making his runs, mostly down the right, but he was always crowded out. Podence and Jota combined nicely on the other side a few times, but it was still difficult to find a way past the last line of Lampard’s defence.
In the 73rd minute, Pulisic found himself one-on-one with Coady on the edge of the box and the Wolves captain tripped him on the edge of the box wide on the right, leading to a shot by Alonso deflected wide. Four minutes later, Wolves finally threatened through Boly, but the centre-back couldn’t direct his header properly under pressure from Azpilicueta.
Then Lampard made his first changes. Giroud and Pulisic left the pitch to be replaced by Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Then Mount tried to recreate the goal he scored against Manchester United in the FA Cup semifinal, bursting through the middle and firing low from range, but this time the shot went far from the target.
As the game approached its final stages, the visitors appeared to be losing their nerves and vented their frustrations at the referee over minor decisions that went against them. Nothing they tried worked properly, they were two goals down and the minutes were drifting away.
With six to go, Bruno Jordao came on to replace Jota for Wolves, while Lampard withdrew Mount and Kovacic and sent on Pedro Rodriguez and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. A few minutes later, he also replaced Jorginho with Ross Barkley.
The visitors were now trying to conduct a pressing all over the pitch, but their players were constantly outwitted by those in Blue. Chelsea were winning all the duels and played it smart, keeping possession whenever they could. In that way, they closed the contest down completely and prevented any late surprises. What’s more, Abraham had a great chance in stoppage time to add to his team’s tally, but as he charged through the middle, his tame effort from just outside the box went straight into the hands of Patricio.
It was a difficult day at work for the Chelsea players, but they performed admirably. They knew exactly what they needed to do and did it with high levels of concentration and responsibility, taking their chances when they came. They fully deserved the three points and have booked a place in next season’s Champions League. They finish in fourth place as Manchester United beat Leicester away with the same scoreline.
Meanwhile, it’s a disappointing end to what has overall been a very good campaign for Wolves. They lacked a bit of luck at times in this game, but what they mostly lacked was creativity; hard work simply wasn’t enough at the end of the day. They end the season sitting seventh, with a point at Selhurst Park enough for Spurs to overtake them on goal-difference. They will now be hoping Chelsea beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final next week, because only in that case will there be a place in the Europa League for them.
Alternatively, they could still win the competition this term and secure a place in the Champions League instead, but that seems a very long shot indeed right now. Be that as it may, they will now start preparing for the second leg of the round of 16 against Olympiacos, which takes place on August 6th.
CHELSEA: Caballero 7, Azpilicueta 7, Rudiger 7, Zouma 7, Jorginho 7 (88′ Barkley N/A), Kovacic 7.5 (85′ Loftus-Cheek N/A), James 7, Alonso 7, Mount 7.5 (85′ Pedro N/A), Pulisic 7.5 (78′ Hudson-Odoi 5.5), Giroud 7.5 (78′ Abraham 5.5).
WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS: Patricio 7, Coady 6, Saiss 6.5, Boly 7, Neves 5 (59′ Moutinho 5) , Dendocker 6, Jonny 6 (59′ Vinagre 6), Doherty 5.5 (59′ Podence 6.5), Jota 7 (85′ Jordao N/A), Neto 6 (46′ Traore 6), Jimenez 6.5.
GOALS: Mount 45’+1, Giroud 45’+3.
YELLOW CARDS: Jota 23′, Neto 45′, Giroud 45’+2, Dendoncker 84′, Azpilicueta 90′.
REFEREE: Stuart Attwell.
DATE & VENUE: July 26, 2020, Stamford Bridge, London.
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