The final day of the Premier League season is here. Chelsea play Wolverhampton Wanderers at home. The reverse fixture was a delight to watch, especially considering the shaky start to our season. Chelsea snatched a comfortable win, scoring five goals, with Tammy Abraham bagging a hat trick. Since the restart, Chelsea’s fortunes have been up and down, albeit showing flashes of brilliance along the way. Wolves have been in decent form, winning five of their eight games in recent weeks. The league table is delicately poised at both ends. Chelsea are involved in the fight for a spot in the UEFA Champions League. With Manchester United facing Leicester City as fellow contenders, it certainly helps Chelsea’s case. A win would guarantee safe passage regardless of other results.
What to Expect
Nuno Espirito Santo has done an excellent job at Wolves. His first season in the Premier League saw Wolves finish seventh courtesy of a solid 3-5-2 system. In the current season, he seems to prefer a 3-4-3 more often. He usually deploys a 3-4-3 system against teams who attack down the wings. Chelsea falls right into that mould. Wolves are an excellent counter attacking team. Their front three maintain a high position on the pitch putting pressure on the opposition centre backs and/or the defensive midfielder, forcing the opposition to play through the flanks. Once the ball is out to the flanks, Wolves use their wing backs and corresponding midfielder to put pressure on the opposition ball carrier. When they sit deep, they defend in a 5-4-1, with two banks of players to become more compact, thus limiting the space for opponents to play through. In attack, the system gives them ample opportunity down the wings to overload the opposition fullbacks. The wingers occasionally drop into the midfield dragging the corresponding opposition fullback with them, allowing them opportunities to play one-two’s with the high flying wingbacks. In Doherty and Otto, Wolves have attack-minded fullbacks who combine well with Jota/Podence and Traore. This is possible because they have arguably the best double pivot of the league in Neves and Moutinho. They are positionally aware enough to stay back when the wingbacks are playing high. They are the heartbeat of the team that has overachieved in the past two seasons. That many players have played in multiple roles over the course of the season is a testament to Nuno’s inspiration and the tactical flexibility of the players. Given the recent success they have had, specifically against Crystal Palace in their last game, it seems likely that there may not be any changes to the side.
While it could be argued that Raul Jimenez has been ever present for Wolves since promotion, Adama Traore has been the main attacking threat for Wolves. Traore has improved in leaps and bounds under the tutelage of Nuno. In this season, he has been a constant pain in the side of any defence he has faced so far. Considering Chelsea’s defensive frailties on the left, it is a position worth protecting better. In the midfield, Joao Moutinho has been exemplary in his partnership with Ruben Neves. This double pivot has worked like a charm for them all season. The tactical awareness and understanding between the two helps their teammates to play more freely around them.
Areas Where Game can be Won or Lost
Chelsea should seek to keep Moutinho quiet all game and not allow him to settle into his stride. This is imperative as Wolves’ counter attacks flow through either Moutinho or Neves, who ping balls into the path of Jimenez or Traore. With Traore and the marauding wing backs pushing high, Chelsea must have a plan to compensate for their vulnerabilities at left back. These high positions tend to leave them open on the counter at times. It is these moments that Chelsea should take advantage of, by playing quicker players up front – ideally Christian Pulisic, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi. This would facilitate quick counter attacks down their open flanks. Playing Giroud up front would be counter-intuitive, as holding up play in the final third would allow Wolves to settle into their compact, well-drilled defensive shape. In possession, Chelsea should use Kovacic and Mount for a combination of breaking into channels and pressing higher up respectively.
Despite Chelsea’s form looking shaky, there is cause for optimism. Keeping defensive woes aside, Chelsea have played some good football in recent games. Wolves, on the other hand, have European qualification in the bag. While they can beat any team on their day, the psychological pressure of the earlier heavy defeat might see them give Chelsea some advantage. Chelsea need a win if they are to seal a top four spot without depending on other results. If they manage to do that, next season is already beginning to look a rosy affair with top talents coming into the side.