Carlo Ancelotti might raise a quizzical, arched eyebrow if you were to ask him how worried he was about facing Chelsea on Wednesday night. He would then give you a perfectly polite response about how much respect he has for the club and how many quality players they have.
After all, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, now on the Chelsea bench, were his lieutenants during his time at Stamford Bridge. And anyway, Carlo being Carlo, he is never likely to say: ‘Frankly, Real Valladolid would give us a tougher test.’
Yet there it is. Wolves were excellent here on Saturday and tactically Julen Lopetgui’s 4-4-2, for the most part, baffled Lampard’s players.
All of Chelsea’s starting front three – Kai Havertz, Raheem Sterling and Joao Felix were withdrawn before the 69th minute, which tells you something about the lightweight nature of their contribution. And not to diminish the outstanding efforts of Mario Lemina and Joao Gomes but if you can’t cope with the Wolves’ midfield, then good luck containing Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Federico Valverde.
In summary, other than a lively spell after the half time team talk, Chelsea were as poor as they have ever been under Graham Potter. The bounce effect fell flat. There was zero emotional response from the players to a club legend.
Frank Lampard’s return fell flat as aimless Chelsea slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Wolves after Graham Potter’s sacking last Sunday
Matheus Nunes’ stunning strike gave the hosts another survival lifeline and kept the Stamford Bridge club rooted in turmoil
Koulibaly touched on a ball to Nunes for the midfielder to smash in a wonderful angled half-volley across Kepa Arrizabalaga
There was no apparent delight at the return of a familiar coaching face. But then how could there be when only four of starting eleven were even here when Lampard left the club in January 2022? Under Potter they created chances that they then missed. Here they didn’t get the chance to miss much as they barely created anything.
Chelsea look and play like a bunch of strangers, superstar footballers thrown together to record one of those over-dramatic ads for a soft drinks firm. Whatever the inverse of team is, they are it. They look lost, bewildered, a group of young men unsure of what is expected of them and unsure they could deliver it even if they knew what it was.
Lampard correctly identified the fact that his players don’t even compete sufficiently at present and, as such. their talent is a moot point. Quizzed on whether they should be concerned about what Real Madrid might do to them, he made an appeal to Chelsea’s character of old, the type embodied by himself and Cole.
‘If you are worried, then don’t come,’ he urged. ‘The players shouldn’t be. It is a carrot for them, and when they sign for Chelsea, every players in that squad, whether it is Mateo Kovacic, who has won Champions Leagues and played in World Cups, you deserve to play; or if you have just arrived and are Mudryk, you are here for a reason.
‘But to expect everything to come together is not necessarily the case. I’m not saying this squad doesn’t have aggression. It is a case of bringing it together. Lack of confidence can look like lack of aggression but here we were up against a team who were very aggressive and maybe there were second balls and duels that we were not quite at. I don’t mind saying it. It has to be said for it to be dealt with.’
To be fair, when you’re up against Marco van Basten life isn’t easy. Matheus Nunes was wearing the shirt but it was almost pure van Basten when the singular moment of outstanding quality in this game occurred on 32 minutes. (A critic might quibble that Nunes didn’t hit the ball purely on the volley but let the ball bounce; or that Van Basten’s chance was from a tighter angle. But still, it was reminiscent).
Diego Costa, still waiting for his first Wolves goal, was denied by Kepa soon after as the Blues failed to show much fight
Lampard called for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with 22 minutes left but the striker made little difference at the Molineux
A familiar theme preceded it: Chelsea lost the ball in midfield and then failed to clear. And though they couldn’t quite have been expecting what came, it still seemed extraordinary that Nunes had so much time and space to size up his shot on the bounce from the Daniel Podence cross.
Still, what a strike it was. From the edge of the box, you will not see a sweeter connection with the ball nor a more fearsome shot. Kepa barely moved and net didn’t so much as ripple but nearly bust under the power. It was a beautiful moment, all the more appreciated because, up until that point the fare had been so mediocre. Still Julen Lopetegui was having none of the love in. ‘It does not matter if the goal is very beautiful or not,’ he said. Three points apparently was more important than ethereal moments of exquisite beauty.
Set pieces and corners dominated the first half but not in a good way. There were 12 corners in the first half, eight for Wolves, which gives you an idea of the balance of play, even if Chelsea enjoyed more possession. None of these corners produced a notable chance.
Chelsea were better when they came out for the second half. Reece James and Sterling looked as though they might link up down the right. James twice got in behind to deliver crosses but Havertz was nowhere near them. A familiar failing of Lampard’s Chelsea when they were chasing a game was the space they left in behind unprotected. And so it was here. Wolves should have exploited it better when Matheus Cunha burst through on 57 minutes and rolled the ball in for Nunes. But the pass was to slow, Nunes too indecisive and the chance went, as Chelsea gathered ground to converge on their man.
Lampard threw the kitchen sink at it; Christian Pulisic, Ben Chilwell, Mkhailo Mudryk and even Pierre Emerick Aubameyang came on, the latter’s first appearance since then defeat at Spurs in February. None noticeably moved the dial, though Chilwell’s driven cross in injury time at the end was just begging for a forward-thinking player to get on the end of it. Next stop, the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. You may wish to raise your own quizzical eyebrow at the prospect of that.
Lampard immediately recalled Conor Gallagher and Raheem Sterling but the pair weren’t able to change Chelsea’s fortunes
Todd Boehly would have expected a reaction, or at the least to see Chelsea regroup, but he got another limp performance
Wolves should have exploited it better when Matheus Cunha burst through on 57 minutes and rolled the ball in for Nunes.
But the pass was to slow, Nunes too indecisive and the chance went, as Chelsea gathered ground to converge on their man.
Lampard threw the kitchen sink at it; Christian Pulisic, Ben Chilwell, Mkhailo Mudryk and even Pierre Emerick Aubameyang came on, the latter’s first appearance since then defeat at Spurs in February.
None noticeably moved the dial, though Chilwell’s driven cross in injury time at the end was just begging for a forward thinking player to get on the end of it. Next stop, the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.