Chelsea's capacity to reach new lows in this season of strife and self-harm is almost becoming impressive. At this rate of descent they will strike oil before the close of their campaign.
For the second time in a week, they conceded four in an embarrassing defeat, but this was not against Liverpool away. This was not against the foremost side in the division. No, this was at home, in their sanctuary, against a side that is merely very good, well coached and pulling in one direction.
And therein lay the key differences with Chelsea. They are a spineless team. A fractious, whiney team. A team lacking leaders and lacking competency and here they were reduced to a dribbling, howling mess by Wolves.
Truly, this was a battering, with the only saving grace being that Gary O’Neil’s side only scored four. The first two of those were huge ricochets off Thiago Silva and Axel Disasi that turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 Wolves lead but to talk of deflections would be a deflection in itself. Wolves deserved everything they got and more, particularly Matheus Cunha, whose impressive season was supplemented with a hat-trick.
They got him for around £44million – in Chelsea currency he must be worth around half a billion or more. He was exceptional here, as was Pedro Neto, who was involved in the second and third goals.
Matheus Cunha scored a hat-trick for Wolves as they beat Chelsea 4-1 at Stamford Bridge
But Chelsea, woeful Chelsea. Having led through Cole Palmer, they were pathetically poor. There was no style in their play and no cohesion in their group – they were squabbling all afternoon. Disasi and Silva. Silva and Ben Chilwell. Chilwell and Raheem Sterling. At a time when Chelsea need steel links, they resemble a daisy chain of sulkers.
Granted, they still have the Carabao Cup final and a chance to salvage this season, but they are crawling to Wembley just a week or after tentatively started to wonder if the corner had been turned. To see fans flood from Stamford Bridge after Cunha’s penalty for 4-1, and to hear the abuse they received at half-time, is to query the ground under Mauricio Pochettino’s feet.
The fact is they are no better with him than they were with Graham Potter. That goes both for the statistics and the performances. We all know that such problems go far deeper than the manager, and a high-quality one at that, but those responsible will also be those making the decisions about his future. If he isn’t in danger, he will be awfully soon, because this performance was notably wretched.
Worse than the one against Liverpool? Yes, not least because this was at home, where they had form.
With that Anfield debacle so fresh in the mind, Pochettino made two changes to hi side. That meant only a second start for Christopher Nkunku after all his frustrations with injury and duties at right-back for Malo Gusto, with Benoit Badiashile and Noni Madueke dropping to the bench. Had more invasive surgery been performed, then few would have questioned it.
In this reconfiguration, Chelsea were no more coherent than they were at Liverpool - twice in the opening three minutes they teed up counters for Wolves by cheaply conceding possession in their own half.
First, a loose ball allowed Netro a drive at the near post and then, a moment later, just when stability was needed most, Moises Caicedo replicated the error with another careless pass. Cunha’s shot from the edge of the area lacked bite, but Chelsea’s recurring frailties had been illustrated.
They were starting to get edgy, tetchy with one another, which has also been a theme of their campaign. Around quarter of an hour in, there appeared to be at least two squabbles going on simultaneously within their team – Silva was waving with mild irritation at Axel Disasi and there was exasperation between Ben Chilwell and Raheem Sterling. For good measure, Silva then got miffed with Chilwell.
And yet they were able to extract a lead from the agitations of such an underwhelming start. Caicedo was the architect, with a delivery of perfect weight and placement behind Toti, and Palmer’s finish, a first-time roller back across goal, was typical of his sublime talent.
Until then, Chelsea’s only threat had come in those frantic early minutes when Nkunku went through on Jose Sa, but was smothered by the Wolves keeper. With Palmer’s goal, there was a whiff of flattery about the score, but Cunha levelled within three minutes.
Again, it was Chelsea’s sloppiness at the root it, and again it was Caiedo who had been caught in possession, albeit near the halfway line. Joao Gomes led the counter forward, Cunha pulled and the huge deflection off Silva that beat Petrovic.
The second was more fortuitous and involved less complicity from Pochettino’s side, though his analysis will likely identify how Neto was left unattended on his run into the space behind Chilwell, prior to squaring for Ait-Nouri. The glanced finish across goal appeared to be heading well wide, but once more there was a significant rerouting of the ball, this time via Disasi.
‘Sacked in the morning,’ sang the Wolves fans; the tone of the home supporters was not so very different.
At the onset of the second half, Chelsea were no better. Gusto was easily shoved out of two challenges in one move as Neto forced a quick save, before Pablo Sarabia grazed the side-netting with a free-kick. In between those scares, at the other end of the field, Sterling had sufficient time to pick a spot, but blew a strong chance by dragging his shot wide.
They were dire, a mess in all departments, and causing only marginal bother to a side that exhibited the coaching quality of O’Neil. Their patterns, their fluency, the dynamism of their attacks – they all set Wolves apart, as shown with their third goal.
Similar to the second, it originated with a surge up the right by Neto, who found it far to easy to prevail when shoulder-to-shoulder with Silva. When he got to the byline, he pulled back for Cunha to finish. A hat-trick followed for Cunha from the penalty spot when he was sliced down by a dopey lunge from Gusto and at that stage the Chelsea fans began to leave.
In doing so they missed Silva heading in from a Mykhailo Mudryk corner – the very definition of a meaningless consolation.
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