Perhaps starting to glance nervously over their shoulder, Chelsea return to home comforts at Stamford Bridge with the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers for Saturday’s Premier League battle. The Blues went down 1-0 to a relegation-threatened Everton last weekend, while Bruno Lage’s side were humbled by Brighton & Hove Albion in front of their own fans in a 3-0 loss. Everton boss Frank Lampard must have gone to bed dreaming about the prospect of a priceless victory against the club that he gave so much for as a player but flattered to deceive for in the dugout, and his Stamford Bridge replacement Thomas Tuchel could only cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines at Goodison Park.
Richarlison’s effort while fans were still taking their seats following the half-time interval proved decisive, but spare a round of applause for the imperious Jordan Pickford, who put his body and face on the line while producing one of the saves of the season from Cesar Azpilicueta to preserve the Toffees’ advantage. Third place is still in Chelsea’s hands heading into the final straight, but having now won just one of their last four in the Premier League, the gap to capital counterparts Arsenal – a team on the upwards trajectory – has now been cut down to just three points, and it is unthinkable to imagine the Blues failing to achieve their customary top-four finish after flirting with a title challenge earlier in the campaign.
Some of the Blues faithful may already have their eye on FA Cup glory after being pipped to the post in the 2020 and 2021 finals, but taking 12 points from 12 against Wolves, Leeds United, Leicester City and Watford is imperative for a side whose future has been plunged into fresh doubt amid reports of Roman Abramovich changing his stance over unpaid loans. While such off-field distractions are sure to enter the minds of the players and coaching staff at some point, Tuchel must seek to steer Chelsea to just a ninth home win in the 2021-22 Premier League season, but not since September have they failed to score at Stamford Bridge in the top flight. Chelsea’s European fate may still be in their own hands, but a spring collapse has left Wolves scrambling to even make the Europa Conference League after Lage’s side had initially put in a strong showing for an unlikely top-four finish in the Premier League.
As if back-to-back losses to Newcastle United and Burnley were not bad enough, Lage witnessed his side carved open at will by a ruthless Brighton at Molineux last weekend, with Alexis Mac Allister, Leandro Trossard and Yves Bissouma all netting in a 3-0 Seagulls success. Boos and jeers rang around Molineux as Wolves slumped to a third successive defeat without finding the back of the net, and Lage’s side now occupy eighth spot in the rankings – three points behind West Ham United with a game in hand on the Europa League semi-finalists. Taking just three points from their last five games on the road and scoring only two goals in that stretch also spells danger for a Wolves side who have not been renowned for goal-laden showings this season, and their status as European outsiders is even more impressive given that only Everton and Norwich City have amassed fewer than their 15 away goals.
The visitors to Stamford Bridge have not drawn a Premier League game since back in December – which came against Chelsea in a drab 0-0 Molineux stalemate – and another dull encounter here could see the Blues post a trio of goalless draws against a single league opponent for the first time ever. While Mateo Kovacic’s legs were able to handle 45 minutes at Goodison Park, the Croatian came on to replace Jorginho, with Tuchel admitting that he “had to take” the midfielder off in the loss to Everton. Jorginho has now been ruled out of this clash alongside N’Golo Kante, while Andreas Christensen and Ross Barkley ought to be back from respective illnesses. Ben Chilwell and Callum Hudson-Odoi continue their spells out of action for the Blues, and Tuchel is sure to consider freshening up the attack with either Christian Pulisic or Hakim Ziyech after last weekend’s profligacy.
As for Wolves, Lage has been dealt a killer blow with the news that right-back Nelson Semedo will miss the rest of the season with the thigh injury that he picked up in the early stages of the second half against Brighton. Daniel Podence and Maximilian Kilman are keeping Semedo company in the medical bay, with the latter also out for the remainder of the campaign, but Ruben Neves’s half-time withdrawal last time out was pre-planned after his recent layoff. Fabio Silva’s half-time change last time out was a tactical one, though, and the youngster will certainly expect to make way for Raul Jimenez this week, while there could also be a spot in the first XI for Pedro Neto. Furthermore, Lage will also not be on the touchline for Wolves this weekend after returning a positive COVID-19 test.
A limited Premier League weekend slate will see third-place Chelsea travel to take on eighth-place Wolverhampton on Sunday. Six of the 10 league matches set for this weekend had to be postponed due to the increase in positive COVID cases, putting the league’s immediate future up in the air. Burnley against Aston Villa, originally set for Saturday, was called off just hours prior to the match. Only Arsenal and Leeds have played so far, with the Gunners winning 4-1 on Saturday.
Chelsea: The Blues are without some major players for this match with Ben Chilwell injured, while Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi have all tested positive for COVID-19. Mateo Kovacic also remains out in isolation, but it gets worse. Both Jorginho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have picked up knocks, according to manager Thomas Tuchel, with their availability in doubt.
Wolves: The team are likely to be without Hwang Hee-Chan and Ryan Ait-Nouri due to injury, while Fabio Silva and Yerson Mosquera have tested positive for COVID-19. That could mean quite the headache for manager Bruno Lage, but he will at least have star striker Raul Jimenez back. The Mexican international picked up a silly red card against Manchester City the match before last, having served his suspension during the 1-0 win over Brighton.