Chelsea see off Wolves to secure Champions League place
Concerns remains for Frank Lampard’s side but season must be considered a success
Mason Mount scores Chelsea’s opening goal from a free-kick during the Premier League game against Wolves at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Pool via Getty Images
Chelsea 2 Wolves 0
Put the concerns over the defensive frailties to one side for now. Forget about Kepa Arrizabalaga’s lowly save percentage, all those goals conceded to counterattacks and whether this infuriatingly inconsistent Chelsea side will be capable of challenging Liverpool and Manchester City at the top of the table next season.
There is no doubt that Chelsea are a long way from becoming the finished article. There are flaws to eradicate, both in terms of personality and ability, and Frank Lampard still has a lot to learn about management.
Yet for all the talk about Lampard’s connections mattering more than his coaching credentials when he landed his dream job last summer, the youngest manager in the Premier League has performed above expectations, defying a transfer ban by leading the weakest Chelsea squad of the Roman Abramovich era into the Champions League after finishing a rather chaotic campaign with a composed win over Wolves.
Even the sceptics have to admit that one of the most iconic players in Chelsea’s history has done a fine job in only his second season as a manager. As Lampard keeps pointing out, little was expected from Chelsea after they lost Eden Hazard to Real Madrid last summer. But rather than moan about not being able to spend after replacing Maurizio Sarri, Lampard found another way. He remained positive, promoted the kids and accepted that there would be teething problems along the way.
It has not been easy. There have been low moments. Home defeats to West Ham, Bournemouth and Southampton last winter were particularly hard to take, while Chelsea have conceded 54 goals in 38 games, their worst defensive record since the 1996-97 season.
When the heat was on, however, they delivered and it was hugely satisfying for Lampard to see one of his youngsters, Mason Mount, rise to the occasion against Wolves, prising open a tight game with a glorious free-kick before sending Olivier Giroud through to settle the contest just before half-time.
There was much to admire about the way that Mount fed Giroud at the end of a move sparked by Christian Pulisic, the electrifying American winger. Giroud rounded Rui Patrício, the Wolves goalkeeper, to make it 2-0. Chelsea are a joy to watch when they fizz in attack and they will surely be even more dangerous next season, with deals for Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner already completed and the gifted Bayer Leverkusen midfielder, Kai Havertz, expected to follow.
Not everything is in place. Chelsea are on the hunt for defensive reinforcements and it spoke volumes that Lampard started Willy Caballero instead of Arrizabalaga in goal. Lampard needed players he could trust against talented opponents and the harsh reality is that Arrizabalaga no longer falls into that category.
There is surely no way back for the most expensive goalkeeper in the world after such a high-profile snub. The Spaniard had floundered again during last Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat to Liverpool and Chelsea’s back three looked far more secure without him.
Arrizabalaga needs a fresh start and Chelsea need a new goalkeeper, even though Caballero’s performance showed that he remains a reliable understudy. The 38-year-old made a vital contribution when the game was goalless, clawing away an awkward cross from Pedro Neto, and his handling was solid when Wolves pressed in the second half.
Wolves, who missed out on sixth place and Europa League qualification via the league after finishing below Tottenham on goal difference, did not create enough. Nuno Espírito Santo’s team faded after a bright start and Chelsea improved as the first half wore on, squeezing Wolves as Mateo Kovacic wrestled control of midfield away from Ruben Neves and Leander Dendoncker.
The breakthrough arrived in the first minute of first-half stoppage time. Wolves were strong in the challenge but danger lurked when they conceded a free-kick 20 yards from goal. Marcos Alonso stood near the ball but it was Mount who stepped up, whipping a wonderful effort to the right of Patrício.
There was still time for Chelsea to double their lead before the half-time whistle, Pulisic and Mount combining for Giroud to score his seventh goal since the resumption of the season. Wolves, who need to dust themselves down before their Europa League campaign resumes next month, were beaten. Nuno sent on Adama Traoré but Chelsea cruised to victory with Werner watching from the stands. The German striker must be itching to join in the fun. – Guardian