Chelsea will be hoping to continue keeping pace with their Premier League top four rivals when they welcome Wolves to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
The curtains will fall on Gameweek 30 of the 2018-19 Premier League season on Sunday, with four of the ‘Big Six’ sides in action. Some very high stakes riding on the three games on show, with the second match seeing Chelsea play hosts to Wolves at Stamford Bridge, with a chance to return to the top four.
What a difference a few positive results can make. Midway through February, it looked all doom and gloom for Chelsea, having been handed a 6-0 trouncing by Manchester City before being booted out of the FA Cup by Manchester United a week later. The poor run of results also included crushing away defeats to Arsenal and Bournemouth.
As a result, Maurizio Sarri faced an uncertain future at Stamford Bridge, with Zinedine Zidane being named as a possible replacement. But, the Blues have now won three games in a row, in addition to providing tough competition to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final, while being in the vicinity of a place in the top four, and there are only promising signs on show.
Wolves, on the other hand, remain in pole position in the race to finish seventh on the Premier League table. But, ahead of the trip to the capital, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men have seen their away form slide dangerously, having managed to win just one of their last seven games on the road.
The midlands club though, have proven to be a tough nut to crack for the ‘Big Six’ sides this season, which thus, sets the tie against Chelsea intriguingly. Wolves have already gotten the better of the Blues this term, coming from behind to beat them 2-1 back in December, and ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Maurizio Sarri has a clean bill of health to boast of ahead of the visit of Wolves. Danny Drinkwater remains the only player who is doubtful for the clash due to a lack of match fitness, although with the Englishman not starting a single game under the Chelsea boss, his potential absence is not cause for concern.
Sarri though, is likely to shuffle his side around from the one that started in the 3-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv in the UEFA Europa League. Kepa Arrizabalaga is likely to keep his place between the sticks, having atoned for his ridiculous decision to snub a substitution in the League Cup final.
Since returning to the side, the Spaniard has produced two solid performances, with the heroics against Fulham last weekend particularly standing out. In front of him, however, the changes are set to come into effect.
In fact, David Luiz is the only player likely to keep his place in the Chelsea back four against Wolves, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger returning to their regular roles, while the left-back shuffling of Emerson Palmieri and Marcos Alonso continuing once more.
In midfield, there is no looking past N’Golo Kante and Jorginho for two of the slots, something Sarri confirmed during his pre-match press conference as well. The final spot in the side is set to be a toss-up between Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic yet again, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek not being fit enough to start for the Blues yet.
Barkley should thus, get the nod to start alongside Kante and Jorginho, having been subbed off early in the second half on Thursday. Like Barkley, Willian was also taken off, albeit with 12 minutes to play, while Pedro lasted the entire 90 minutes, suggesting that the Brazilian could start ahead of the former Barcelona superstar.
The other two spots in the side should be taken up by Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain, both of whom are certain starters in the key games, meaning Callum Hudson-Odoi will miss out on a place in the starting lineup for a league game once again.
Hazard will hope for better support from the likes of Higuain and Willian once again, especially with the run-in of the league campaign demanding top performance levels from everyone, if a return to the UEFA Champions League is to be achieved.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Emerson; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley; Willian, Higuain, Hazard
Nuno Espirito Santo has no players out injured ahead of the trip to the capital to face Chelsea. On Sunday, the Wolves boss will be without just one first-team player, with Ryan Bennett starting the first of his two-match ban, having accumulated ten yellow cards for the season so far.
With Nino’s preferred back-three disturbed, Roman Saiss is expected to drop back into the defence, partnering Conor Coady and Willy Boly. The backline is set to provide cover to Rui Patricio, who will line up between the sticks after conceding his place to John Ruddy last time out against Cardiff City.
The wing-back slots should have a completely new look as well, with Matt Doherty and Jonny Castro both expected to start after being rested against Cardiff. Adama Traore, who emerged as an interesting option last time out, should feature in attack against Chelsea.
Leander Dendoncker, who has become a key figure for Wolves, is the only one likely to keep his place in the middle of the park, with Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho returning to the side. Up ahead in attack, Nuno seems to have settled on Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez.
Jimenez has been the shining light for Wolves this season, playing a leading role in both creating and finishing off chances. And, if the visitors are to shock Chelsea once again, he will have to be at his best on Sunday.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Patricio; Saiss, Coady, Boly; Doherty, Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho, Jonny; Jimenez, Jota
1. Chelsea to win Wit 1.53
2. Under 2.5 Match Goals @ 1.90
1. Correct Scoreline – Chelsea 2-0 Wolves @ 8.00
- Chelsea have won all four of their Premier League games at home against Wolves, scoring 14 goals and conceding just two.
- Wolves could to do the league double over Chelsea for the first time since the 1974-75 season, when Chelsea ended up being relegated. In fact, Nuno Espirito Santo & co. could become the first promoted team to do the Premier League double over Chelsea since Charlton Athletic in the 2000-01 campaign.
- Wolves have won more points against the ‘Big Six’ sides (9) than any of the other 14 sides in the Premier League this season and have already avoided defeat away at Arsenal (1-1), Manchester United (1-1) and Tottenham Hotspur (3-1).
- Chelsea have been on the wrong end of the result in just one of their last 53 home league games against promoted sides (W44 D8), losing against Bournemouth in December 2015.
- Raul Jimenez has scored 11 Premier League goals this season – the most scored by a Wolves player in a single campaign in the competition is 12 (Steven Fletcher in 2011-12).
Player to Watch
Wolves have been one of the surprise packages of the season so far, despite the riches that Nuno Espirito Santo possesses and why not. After all, seldom has a promoted side had such a consistent impact as they have, with a large portion of credit being rightfully given to Raul Jimenez.
One of the many arrivals from the Portuguese top-flight, the Mexican has showed no effects of the rigours of the Premier League. On the verge of making history in a Wolves shirt, Jimenez will have the onus on him to step up once again, having a found the back of the net in the reverse fixture as well.
Another test for the former Benfica striker, and if short-term history is anything to go by, it will hardly be surprising if Raul Jimenez finds his way to the score sheet once again.
Chelsea 2-1 Wolves
A lot has changed since the last time Chelsea and Wolves met at the Molineux. Chelsea’s elongated period of stutter seems to be a thing of the past, while Wolves have been struggling to get the required results on their travels, with the loss to Huddersfield Town leaving most Premier League watchers shocked.
The midlands club though, have shown that they are no pushovers against the best of opponents and should definitely give their hosts a run for their money. But, if their performance against Dynamo Kyiv is anything to go by, Maurizio Sarri’s men are slowly finding their swagger back.
Expect Sunday’s match to be a tight contest. But, with a place in the top four up for grabs, even if temporarily so, Chelsea should be motivated to continue their recent run. The Hard Tackle predicts a 2-1 win for the Blues, which should see them moving into the top four ahead of Arsenal’s meeting with Manchester United to close out Gameweek 30.