Wolves 1-0 Chelsea (Nunes 31′)
MOLINEUX — The more things change, the more they stay the same. Apparently it takes more than 48 hours to unfetter a mind, to craft goalscorers out of whatever this half-baked leviathan of a Chelsea squad hopes to become.
In Frank Lampard’s second first game in charge, his side played like Todd Boehly would have been better off calling the Ghostbusters, or the talking clock, or a licensed therapist.
Matheus Nunes’s goal on the half-hour mark was unsavable, a word pundits may start bandying around Chelsea sooner rather than later. His strike deserved the flaming trail it will undoubtedly get in the highlight reels of the future in real time, but fans just had to settle for its authentic beauty.
Daniel Podence’s trivela pass was knocked out of Diego Costa’s path by Kalidou Koulibaly, but only made it as far as £38m January signing Nunes.
Gently returning to earth after Koulibaly’s headed deflection, the Portguese’s right foot ripped through the ball and past Kepa Arrizabalaga with a similar force reality hit Chelsea fans with this afternoon. There had still been considerable discussion about Lampard’s prospects of winning the Champions League before this tie. That talk will be markedly quieter from now on.
Under Graham Potter, the Blues played beautiful football across most of the pitch, but couldn’t quite achieve what was needed in either 18-yard box. At Molineux, they couldn’t even manage that. All Chelsea’s familiar flaws were still here, they’d just gained some new friends.
Conor Gallagher, all fire and brimstone and relentless running, came in to replace the indubitable star of the Bruno Saltor moment, N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman was considered too friable to add to his 102 minutes since mid-August ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid. It was not hard to understand why Lampard feels the need to protect Kante at all costs.
The ex-Leicester midfielder makes being everything, everywhere, all at once an art form like Daniels Kwan and Scheinert did in their Oscar-winning film. When Gallagher tries it, it just looks like he’s running around a lot. He’s not quite anything, not quite anywhere, not quite at the right time.
The other notable pre-match choice was Marc Cucurella starting over Ben Chilwell. Cucurella has disappointed since his £50m summer signing from Brighton, whereas Chilwell provided some of the brightest moments for optimism of the failed Potter experiment. The Spaniard failed to get his head to the ball that led to the game’s only goal. There was precious little reason to notice him aside from that, and maybe his hairdo.
Against the low standards set by the rest of the match, Chelsea started brightly. They won a corner within the first two minutes as the ball deflected off the totemic Toti, which Reece James duly dispatched just shy of the first man. Despite Chelsea eventually having eight corners, the standard did not improve.
The first chance of note came just four minutes before Nunes’s goal, as Mario Lemina’s edge-of-the-area strike was deflected just wide from what was already the game’s tenth corner. The following chances were not much more scintillating.
The second half continued much like the first, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s return to the pitch on 67 minutes providing change but little sign he would provide the much-vaunted answer to Chelsea’s goalscoring woes. The ex-Arsenal forward managed one shot on goal late on, duly blocked by Craig Dawson and easily forgotten about.
This was a game of little excitement and even less quality, bar Nunes’s strike and the Twitter jokes at Lampard’s expense. As the travelling fans sang for their “Super Frank”, the caretaker boss remained motionless with folded arms for almost the entire 90 minutes. It is not hard to predict what Chelsea’s all-time goalscorer would have been thinking.
This win moves Wolves up to 12th, just one place and eight points behind their opponents. Julen Lopetegui will continue to gain confidence that he will do what was asked of him and keep his side in the Premier League.
Eight-hundred-and-four days after Chelsea first sacked Lampard, they have had two owners and two managers. They have spent £650m and won a Champions League. And somehow, by the sheer forces of chaos and mismanagement, everything is just as it was when he left.