Tuesday 26 September 2017

Half-baked Blues ride luck to squeeze past Wolves

Wolves 0 Chelsea 2

Costa celebrates Chelsea’s second goal. Photo: PA
Costa celebrates Chelsea’s second goal. Photo: PA

Miquel Delaney

Only half a side and a quarter of their usual level of performance, but still on course for the double. A diminished Chelsea side were far from impressive against an admirably energetic Wolves but goals from Pedro and Diego Costa were enough to put them into the FA Cup quarter-finals.

In the end, the home side's level of application probably ended up working against them, as their tired legs no longer had enough in them to bridge the gap to Chelsea's level of quality. Antonio Conte's side at last had the space denied to them in the first half, and took the opportunity.

Chelsea's Eden Hazard (left) and Wolverhampton Wanderers' Jack Price battle for the ball Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Chelsea's Eden Hazard (left) and Wolverhampton Wanderers' Jack Price battle for the ball Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

If the FA Cup has faded in prestige, with the visitors resting a host of big names, you would not have sensed it from a raucous home crowd. Wolves were clearly treating this as a huge occasion.

From the off, they properly rattled Chelsea and got right up against them in a way few sides in the Premier League really have since they switched to 3-4-3.

Many of the Blues' stand-ins did look somewhat rusty, but that isn't enough to explain how dominant Wolves were initially. They really went for it, and could have gone out of sight in the first half. They had that many moments of danger, that many flashes.

On five minutes, the entire Chelsea box just opened up for their former youth player George Saville, as he lay in wait 12 yards from goal. Rather than ease it past Asmir Begovic in the way that seemed set up for him, though, Saville slightly sliced at it to see the ball cannon back off the post. Andreas Weimann then put the rebound over.

Chelsea's Nathan Ake jumps to head the ball Photo: Reuters / Carl Recine
Chelsea's Nathan Ake jumps to head the ball Photo: Reuters / Carl Recine

Wolves kept coming at Chelsea, evidently looking to exploit the legginess of John Terry at the centre. The ball seemed to spend a lot of the first half pinballing around Begovic's area, and just awaiting that final touch.

Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa were all guilty of sloppy touches or passes, and it just didn't look like they were as alert as Wolves.

The hosts, though, began to tire, losing their sharpness. The key moment illustrated it. On 64 minutes, the otherwise quiet Helder Costa embarrassed stand-in wing-back Pedro with a quick turn on the right, only for the ball to just end up down the other end of the pitch.

It was then that Pedro got instant revenge. With Wolves struggling to get back in the manner they had been, Costa fed Willian on the right, who then clipped the ball over. Pedro was there, completely unmarked, to head in.

It was scarcely what Wolves had deserved from the general performance, but it was exactly what their defending at that moment deserved. At the same time, it was scarcely what Chelsea deserved from their general game - it was telling that the first constructive move they put together yielded a goal.

It said much that Conte still felt he had to bring on N'Golo Kante towards the end, and it paid off when the Frenchman made a crucial interception just minutes after Fabregas had missed a fine opportunity. Within seconds, Costa had finally got free himself, sliding the ball into the corner.

There is a sense that Chelsea are dropping their form a bit. The instant response to that, however, is that it comes as their chances of doing a Double are growing.

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