After admitting on the eve of this game that Chelsea are “not able to fight with Manchester City” for the title, Maurizio Sarri will take no pleasure from being proved right little more than 90 minutes later. Looking frustrated and exasperated, the Chelsea manager was forced to endure a second successive away defeat on a night when Wolverhampton Wanderers played with the dynamism, flair and belief that has been so badly missing in recent weeks.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, with his sixth goal in his last seven club games, put a much-changed Chelsea side ahead early on but the visitors never built on that platform and it was no real surprise when Wolves brought parity through Raúl Jiménez. Three minutes later they had a second as Diogo Jota, last season’s top scorer, finally opened his Premier League account with a predatory finish to give Wolves their first win in seven matches. As for Chelsea, they are now 10 points behind Manchester City, who visit Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Sarri has been unhappy with the way that Chelsea have started matches for much of this season but for the second time in the space of four days the Italian was able to savour the sight of his team taking an early lead. The goal was credited to Loftus-Cheek, who cut in from the left to curl a right-footed shot that was on target, but the most significant contact was made by Conor Coady. Stooping to try to clear the ball, the Wolves defender succeeded only in heading it beyond Rui Patrício and inside the goalkeeper’s near post. Coady’s crestfallen expression as Loftus-Cheek celebrated said it all.
Loftus-Cheek was one of five changes to the Chelsea team and along with Andreas Christensen and Cesc Fàbregas was making his first Premier League appearance of the season. Álvaro Morata and Willian also came into the starting XI and the latter came agonisingly close to doubling Chelsea’s lead with a splendid free-kick that was arcing towards the top corner until Patrício, stretching every sinew, superbly tipped the ball onto the crossbar and behind.
Chelsea were not having everything their own way, however, and there was plenty of encouragement for Wolves to take from the opening 45 minutes. Rúben Vinagre provided some excellent deliveries from the left flank and Morgan Gibbs-White, making his first Premier League start at the age of 18, played with a maturity beyond his years.
The England youth international showed some lovely footwork and must have thought he was going to mark his landmark appearance with a goal when Jiménez astutely nodded down Vinagre’s deep left-wing cross. Bursting into the penalty area, Gibbs-White looked set to score only for Fàbregas to make a perfectly-timed tackle. It was a brilliant piece of defending by the Spaniard, who was full of energy in the midfield holding role that Jorginho normally takes up.
Vinagre had also combined with Jiménez three minutes earlier but Antonio Rudiger got a crucial touch that gave the Wolves striker little time to adjust to a header that flashed over the bar. Although Wolves had responded well to conceding, Chelsea continued to carry a threat and when Willian sprinted onto a lovely lofted pass by Eden Hazard, a second goal beckoned. Yet just as the Brazilian prepared to pull the trigger, Ryan Bennett came racing across and made a terrific challenge that was every bit as good as Fàbregas’s intervention at the other end.
Willy Boly may have been a touch more fortunate with the sliding tackle he made right at the start of the second half to prevent Morata, who was only a couple of yards out, from making contact with Loftus-Cheek’s teasing cross. Boly seemed to take Morata’s legs from under him before getting a touch on the ball, yet Jonathan Moss, the referee, rather strangely gave a goal-kick.
The game then turned on its head with two Wolves goals in the blink of an eye. Jiménez, running onto a measured through-ball from Gibbs-White, got the first with a low angled shot that seemed to almost go through Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Wolves were now buoyant and quickly had a second. Joño Moutinho dispossessed Willian deep inside the Chelsea half before releasing Matt Doherty in space on the right. The Irishman’s low centre was weighted to perfection and emphatically turned home at the far post by the unmarked Jota.
Sarri responded by bringing on Pedro, Olivier Giroud and Mateo Kovacic but although Chelsea threatened – Hazard and Fàbregas both fired over – Wolves held on for a restorative victory.