Chelsea will be running the risk of losing further ground in the Premier League title race when they take on Wolves on Sunday.
The ongoing COVID crisis in England has left Premier League in complete disarray at the moment. At least six matches have already been wiped out amid the rising cases of the Omicron variant in the country, with multiple staffers and players testing positive.
Incidentally, the Premier League title race may continue as Liverpool, Manchester City, and Chelsea have all been given the nod to play this weekend, so far. While Liverpool’s encounter against Tottenham Hotspur may appear touch and go, their closest competitors, Chelsea, are confirmed to take on Wolves on Sunday.
It is going to be a must-win encounter for Thomas Tuchel’s men, especially after a 1-1 draw with Everton earlier this week. The disappointing result increased Liverpool’s lead to three points while league leaders Manchester City currently have a four-point advantage over the reigning European champions. Another mishap this weekend could see Chelsea lose further ground in the title race.
Things won’t be made any easier by the resilient Wolves side that has not conceded over one goal in any of their last six matches. Although they have collected only eight points during that period, Bruno Lage’s men are heading into this game on the back of a morale-boosting victory over Brighton & Hove Albion earlier this week.
The three points helped the West Midlands outfit remain eighth in the league table. They could potentially climb even further given Leicester City and Crystal Palance’s matches have been postponed while Tottenham are facing a tricky test against the mighty Liverpool. Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their crucial encounter at the Molineux on Sunday.
Team News & Tactics
— Wolves (@Wolves) December 18, 2021
Wolves are set to be boosted by the return of Raul Jimenez from suspension. The Mexican international’s physical and aerial presence inside the box is exactly what the hosts need in order to cause problems for the Chelsea backline.
Unfortunately, though, Bruno Lage is expected to be without the services of star player Hwang Hee-chan and Pedro Neto due to their respective injuries. Their absence could severely damage Wolves’ supply line, especially as they are joined by Jonny and Rayan Ait-Nouri in the club’s list of absentees. Wolves may even miss out on Fabio Silva, who has a test report awaiting before he can be cleared to play.
With star players missing, the onus will be on the offensive duo of Jimenez and Adama Traore to spearhead the frontline. The latter, in particular, could play a vital role in the creative side of things, with his pace likely to cause problems for the opposition.
Lage might want to double down on his midfield options by adding Leander Dendoncker into the mix. The Belgian international should strengthen his team’s second line of press, as he partners Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves.
Defensively, Wolves usually opt for a conservative back-five, led by the experienced figure of Conor Coady. The Englishman is set to be aided by Max Kilman and Roman Saiss, as the hosts look to operate with a deep defensive line.
Even the wing-backs in Nelson Semedo and Marcal are expected to remain in their own defensive third for the large portion of the proceedings, although the former could be given the license to make a few marauding runs forward.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Sa; Kilman, Coady, Saiss; Semedo, Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho, Marcal; Traore, Jimenez
Chelsea’s COVID situation is significantly more critical right now. Thomas Tuchel has already confirmed that Romelu Lukaku, Ben Chilwell, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and Timo Werner tested positive, ruling them out of Sunday’s clash.
In addition, Jorginho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek remain major doubts due to their lack of full fitness, although Kai Havertz has been cleared to play after coming back with a negative result.
Another busy week. 💪
It's time for Chelsea Unseen. ⤵️
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) December 18, 2021
During the press conference, Tuchel hinted that he may have to opt for the midfield duo of N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic, even though they have only recently returned from injury. The German has no shortage of alternatives, though, as Saul Niguez and Ross Barkley are available, if required, while Reece James can play in midfield as well.
The English international, though, is most likely to continue in the right wing-back slot, with Marcos Alonso starting on the opposite flank. They are set to provide the width going forward for Chelsea, hoping to stretch the Wolves defence that typically favours a narrow shape in order to man-mark the Chelsea ball-carriers better.
Speaking of which, Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech remain favourites to start behind Havertz in the offensive line. But Tuchel does have the option of deploying Christian Pulisic, in case he prefers more dynamism and speed in the final third.
As for the defensive department, veteran Thiago Silva could be given a breather after starting in back to back matches within a week. It should pave the way for the returning Trevoh Chalobah to reclaim his spot in the back three, alongside Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Mendy; Azpilicueta, Chalobah, Rudiger; James, Kante, Kovacic, Alonso; Mount, Ziyech; Havertz
- Wolves have won just three of their 14 Premier League meetings with Chelsea, though all three of those wins have come in home games.
- Chelsea have alternated between defeat and victory in their last five Premier League away games against Wolves, losing 2-1 in this fixture last season.
- Wolves have lost 12 of their last 15 games against reigning European champions in all competitions, winning the other three. They’ve lost their last five such games in a row since beating Liverpool 1-0 at Molineux in August 1981.
- Wolves’ home games against seen fewer goals scored than any other Premier League stadium this season (12 – F5 A7), with no other side netting fewer home goals so far this term.
- Chelsea lost away from home at West Ham last time out in the Premier League under Thomas Tuchel for just the second time. The Blues last lost consecutive away league games in December 2020 – a run of three, in which the second defeat was against Wolves.
Player to Watch
Mason Mount puso por delante al Chelsea.
▪️7 goles de Mount esta temporada
▪️7 goles entre Lukaku (3), Pulisic (2), Werner (1) y Hudson-Odoi (1), los cuatro delanteros de Tuchel pic.twitter.com/Hz0DwdgxkV
— Manu Heredia (@ManuHeredia21) December 16, 2021
With various key players missing, the onus will be on Mason Mount to once again spearhead the creative department for Chelsea. The English international was one of the bright sparks in an otherwise dire performance from the Blues in their frustrating draw with Everton.
From a tactical perspective, Mount’s ability to march forward and use quick link-up play to navigate through the opposition press could go a long way in breaking the shackles of the Wolves defence. However, it won’t be surprising to see the former Derby County starlet dropping deeper due to Chelsea’s lack of options in midfield.
Ideally, though, Mason will look to thrive in Chelsea’s free-flowing front three. His combination play with Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz will be essential if the visitors are to salvage anything from this game.
Wolves 0-1 Chelsea
With just two wins in their last six competitive matches, Chelsea are not in the best of form right now. Their job won’t be made any easier by the ongoing COVID and injury crisis that has left Thomas Tuchel without the services of many of his star players. Wolves, too, are missing some of their main players, which could lead to a tight affair.
Given the strong defence of the two sides, this also promises to be a low-scoring encounter. Chelsea remain favourites only due to the sheer quality of their team, more than anything else.