Manchester City are up next and the loss against Wolves puts the 18 match unbeaten run firmly in the past for the Blues
Maurizio Sarri has said all along that Chelsea would not be title challengers this season. However, it’s now become abundantly clear that a top-four finish is by no means a certainty either.
The “strange mentality” that Sarri has repeatedly claimed pervades his playing staff has been exposed for all to see, first by Tottenham last Saturday week, and now by Wolves in Wednesday night’s shock 2-1 loss at Molineux.
The visitors dominated much of the game yet left with nothing. Whereas Chelsea should have ended the night celebrating Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who opened the scoring with his sixth goal in seven games, they were instead left wondering how the game had got away from them.
Sarri may be considering one-on-one meetings again, just like he did after the loss against Spurs, after coming away unhappy with his team’s reaction to conceding.
“I think that we played very well for 55 minutes,” Sarri told journalists. “After the first goal, at 1-1, it was an accident because we were in full control of the match. We were suddenly another team, without the right distances, our football, I don’t know why.
“I am really very worried, not for the result but for the fact we didn’t react to the first goal. We didn’t react at all, so I am really very worried for this.”
The Blues’ sloppiness and poor concentration levels were utterly inexplicable, with Kepa Arrizabalaga’s gifting Raul Jimenez an equaliser out of nowhere.
On top of Chelsea’s mental fragility, they were also caught out tactically, overloaded in the wing-back positions, as Nuno Espírito Santo channelled ‘Conteball’ to compete with ‘Sarriball’.
Wolves’ clever use of their widemen was instrumental to their crucial second goal, with Willian losing possession cheaply to Joao Moutinho, eventually leading to Matt Doherty teeing up Diogo Jota for the winner.
The goal stunned Chelsea, who had been totally dominant in possession, with Loftus-Cheek and Cesc Fabregas having slotted nicely into the midfield alongside N’Golo Kante as Sarri made five changes to the side that had seen off Fulham at the weekend.
Indeed, for long periods the game looked set to serve as a timely reminder of the Blues’ strength in depth ahead of the weekend’s crunch clash with Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.
However, Alvaro Morata and Willian missed five chances between them and while Hazard was unlucky at times, his goal drought for club and country has now been extended to 11 games.
Ill-discipline will also be a worry for Sarri, with his players collecting yellow cards, with Fabregas’ frustration manifesting itself in a booking for dissent after Wolves winner.
The loss to Wolves came as they had failed to win in six games and with the newly promoted club having lost seven of their eight Premier League games against the Blues.
Defeat also means that Chelsea slip to fourth in the table, two points behind Tottenham, who cruised past Southampton. More significantly, though, Arsenal claimed a draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford to move level on points with the Blues.
The title is already gone as far as Chelsea concerned but a fearsome battle for a top-four finish is only just beginning.
It’s time for Sarri’s side to prove that they have the right mindset for the fight ahead.