Frank Lampard has bristled at suggestions Chelsea are the favourites to win the title. He may take little pleasure from being vindicated. On a night when Chelsea could have gone top, they did not, and did not deserve to. A damaging week brought a second successive defeat. Chelsea first lost a lead and then the game.
Pedro Neto’s injury-time surge from deep was capped by an arrowed drive under Edouard Mendy; for the first time in his Chelsea career, he conceded two goals in a game. Each was a classy strike, with Daniel Podence’s equaliser similarly memorable as Wolves, who were on course for a third successive loss when Olivier Giroud gave Chelsea a lead they barely deserved, produced a show of spirit.
This was a reminder of the team they have been for the last two seasons. For Chelsea, it was an indication that the recent defensive improvements effected by Mendy and Thiago Silva are not enough when the team produces such a disjointed display. The inspiration came from Wolves, from Podence and Neto, on a night when Timo Werner and Kai Havertz were particularly ineffective.
Instead, Wolves’ scorers were rivals for the man-of-the-match award. Each was a catalyst. Podence twisted and turned before unleashing a shot that, aided by a slight deflection off Reece James, flew past Edouard Mendy. If one question lingers over Wolves – who will score the goals in Raul Jimenez’s extended absence? – then Podence’s CV suggests he scarcely appears the answer. This was just a 30th of a club career that has extended over 250 games. It was, however, a case of quality rather than quantity. Certainly a starting 11 who, before Podence’s moment of trickery, only boasted six league goals this season seemed to have insufficient potency, but flair players compensated for the loss of a striker.
Wolves were the more assured side for much of the first half and the more urgent for much of the second. They looked more comfortable after reverting to a back three – there may be a lesson for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal there – and showed more conviction and coherence. Neto threatened with a volley that bounced awkwardly in front of Mendy. He parried it well.
Initially muted, Chelsea then showed menace from set-pieces. Giroud headed over from Ben Chilwell’s corner. The newly prolific Kurt Zouma was inches from a fifth goal of the season, heading Mason Mount’s corner against the bar. It rebounded on to Giroud, before he had time to react, and bounced wide.
But it was evidence of his ability to get into promising positions and, when the influential Chilwell crossed, Giroud connected well with his volley. Despite Rui Patricio’s effort to save, it squirmed over the line. It was the Frenchman’s sixth goal in four games, enough to make him Chelsea’s joint top scorer in a season when he has often been on the bench. But his campaigns can follow a familiar pattern; overlooked at first, Giroud finds a way to make himself pivotal.
Yet their hosts responded. The £35 million teenager Fabio Silva thought he had his first senior Wolves goal after turning in Podence’s shot, but he was ruled offside. Silva got the hook on the hour, and if the long-term aim is that he proves Jimenez’s successor, it is asking a lot for the rookie to replace him in the short term. Wolves nevertheless had plenty of verve without him. Neto was as bright as Podence.
And Chelsea were reprieved once. Defeat beckoned when Stuart Attwell ruled Reece James had tripped Neto in the box. A VAR intervention and a trip to the pitchside monitor later, Attwell overturned his initial decision. Wolves, though, did not need official assistance. When Neto found the net, the lights went out on Lampard’s side.
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