Wolverhampton Wanderers bounced back from derby-day defeat by coming from behind to see off high-flying Chelsea at Molineux, courtesy of goals from Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto.
Wolverhampton Wanderers made two changes to the side that fell to late defeat to Aston Villa, with Willy Boly and Ruben Neves replacing Adama Traore and Joao Moutinho, with Wolves reverting to a back 3 as a result.
Just the one change for the Blues, with Christian Pulisic replacing Mateo Kovacic, Frank Lampard continuing with a very attacking 4-3-3 formation.
Wolves started the encounter brightly, and with good intent, courtesy of a couple of decent strikes from distance by Fabio Silva and Conor Coady. However, the opening fifteen minutes was an even affair, with neat play in the middle third by both sides not being matched by the quality of the final pass or finish.
The biggest threat on the Wanderers goal appeared to come from the Chelsea full backs sending a barrage of crosses into the Wolves box. It was one of these crosses – this time a Chilwell corner – that led to a powerful Olivier Giroud header being directed narrowly over the top as the clock ticked over into the 20th minute.
Two minutes later, and Wolves produced their best move of the game so far, exhibiting excellent interplay involving almost every outfield player. Main creator Daniel Podence fed the ball into Silva, who managed to cushion a nice one-touch layoff into the path of Pedro Neto, allowing the former Lazio man to fire a first time volley which had to be dealt with by Eduoard Mendy.
From the resulting corner, Ruben Neves hit a shot from one of his trademark positions outside the box, but it fell tamely into the arms of the Chelsea keeper.
Much of the Chelsea threat in the first quarter of the game was coming down their left – and thus Wolves’ right – side, no doubt giving Wanderers fans cause for concern following right back Nelson Semedo’s costly mistake in conceding the penalty that led to the decisive goal in the West Midlands derby just three days prior.
Nevertheless, Wolves were showing characteristic grit and determination in repelling Chelsea’s singleminded left sided assault, and despite a 32nd minute VAR check for handball when potential offender Coady came under pressure from Giroud whilst trying to defend yet another cross from a wide position, the check was a quick one – no penalty – and Wolves continued relatively untroubled.
Just one minute from half time, and a corner from Ben Chilwell was played into a dangerous area, allowing the unmarked Kurt Zouma to hit a towering header towards the top left corner of Patricio’s goal; thankfully for him, and all of the players in Wolves’ old gold, it clattered against the crossbar and to safety.
So Wolves reached half time, having dealt with the largely wing-based assault reasonably comfortably in the first 45 minutes. However, their deep defensive setup deep and lack of tempo when constructing attacking moves meant that the front three of Fabio Silva, Neto & Podence were feeding off scraps.
HALF TIME – WOLVES 0-0 CHELSEA
There was a half time change for Wolves, with American teenager Owen Otasowie handed his Premier League debut, replacing Leander Dendoncker, whose movement looked laboured towards the end of the first half.
The most decisive moment of the game so far took only three minutes of the second half to arrive, as yet another whipped cross from the left, courtesy of Ben Chilwell, was met sweetly first time by Olivier Giroud. Rui Patricio did his best to keep out the vicious left-footed strike at his near post, but the ball squirmed through the Wolves keeper’s grasp and, despite his best efforts at smuggling it away from his goal-line, the technology affirmed that the ball had crossed the line. Chelsea lead, with the only surprise amongst many of their fans being that it took until three minutes into the second half for Chelsea’s left-sided assault to pay dividends.
Wolves looked for an almost immediate response, with the ever-lively Neto driving purposefully into the final third in the 54th minute. Only he will know whether his scuffed contact was a shot or a cross, but regardless, the ball fell perfectly for Fabio Silva 10 yards from goal, with the Portuguese frontman sliding the ball under Eduoard Mendy before turning away, arm aloft, convinced he had scored his first league goal in English football. Alas, the assistant’s flag quickly curtailed the teenager’s celebrations, with the replay showing he was quite a way offside.
That was to be Silva’s last action of the game, as he was replaced by Adama Traore on the hour mark. Following the change, the Wolves front line appeared to settle into a front two of Traore and Neto, with Podence operating in the hole behind them.
The newly-introduced Wolves speedster was stricken three minutes later courtesy of a painful-looking collision in the centre of the pitch. However, Wolves needed only ten players to find a leveller. The third in a trio of set-pieces in the 65th minute led to the ball falling to Podence on the edge of the area; the Wolves playmaker jinked and turned smartly, tiptoeing into the penalty area via the left channel, before striking a sweet shot past Mendy and into the Chelsea net for his third goal of the season, and Wolves’ first league goal in just over 5 hours.
The goal and Traore’s introduction seemed to inject a modicum of confidence into the West Midlands side, who pressed forwards with more intensity than they had showed previously. And it looked as if they would get the chance to convert their confidence into something more tangible, as Stuart Attwell pointed to the spot in the 81st minute following a collision between Reece James and a full-tilt Pedro Neto. For the second time in the match, though, the technology acted to Wolves’ detriment, with VAR correctly overturning the on-field decision, with replays showing no contact between the two.
Still Wolves came, with Chelsea seemingly rocked by their resurgence, N’Golo Kante picking up a booking for pulling down Neto. The last throw of the dice from Nuno Espirito Santo saw the Wolves boss throw on Vitinha for Podence on 89 minutes, as 5 further minutes were signified by the fourth official. Wolves would need all five minutes, but in sharp contrast to the disappointment three days prior, would use them to complete a remarkable late turnaround.
The men in old gold were forced to play the stoppage time period with 10 men, as Willy Boly was forced off with an apparent hamstring injury, Nuno having already made all three substitutions. Blue shirts poured forward, seemingly sensing an opportunity to inflict more late heartache on Wolves. However, on this night, the boot was to be on the other foot – Chelsea had committed too many men forward in their latest attack and as Chilwell’s cross into the area was cleared into the path of Vitinha, the substitute played a quick ball forwards to Neto. Still full of drive and energy, the Portuguese attacker drove forward with purpose, squaring up Kurt Zouma as he reached the edge of the penalty area, before firing a low, left footed drive across the Chelsea goalkeeper and into the far corner.
Wolves had won it, showing admirable strength of character to come from behind against their expensively assembled opponents. This was the perfect way to bounce back from derby-day disappointment, with a return to their tried-and-tested back 3 formations and the solidity of shape they bring being complimented perfectly by vital goals from frontmen Podence and Neto, who must continue to fire in Raul Jimenez’s absence if Wolves are to continue their push back towards the business end of the Premier League table.
FULL TIME – WOLVES 2-1 CHELSEA
WOLVES MOTM – PEDRO NETO