Eden Hazard’s screamer keeps Chelsea’s top four hopes alive

Wolves led until injury time when the home side managed strike and salvage a point

Eden Hazard of Chelsea scores his team’s equaliser during the Premier League clash with Wolves. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Eden Hazard of Chelsea scores his team’s equaliser during the Premier League clash with Wolves. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

 

Chelsea 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1

Chelsea might have muscled their way back into the Champions League places here but, in the end, were grateful merely to have denied Wolverhampton Wanderers a first win in these parts in four decades. Eden Hazard’s wonderful goal, whipped from distance through a cluttered penalty area and beyond Rui Patrício, secured a point in stoppage time though, for a while, this occasion had threatened to shatter the uneasy truce at this club.

Local frustration had mounted from the moment Wolves, so well drilled and resilient, had settled into the defensive shape early on. All the hosts’ possession counted for little, the game of patience distinctly unsatisfactory. By the time Jorginho was substituted 18 minutes from time to a chorus of cheers from the home support, Chelsea were attempting to claw back parity after Raúl Jiménez’s opener, plucked on the counterattack.

Hazard’s late reward would at least spare Maurizio Sarri and his side the ramifications of a home defeat, with the stalemate leaving Chelsea four points off Tottenham Hotspur in third place, with a game in hand, before the late afternoon meeting between the sides in fourth and fifth. The Italian will have considered this a missed opportunity. As it transpired, given the frustration he and his players had endured, the point was to be cherished.

The hosts had battered their heads against Wolves’ brick wall throughout. They enjoyed virtually all the ball, yet that monopoly had too often amounted to passes that skirted the edge of the visitors’ penalty area but rarely penetrated the massed ranks of gold shirts, marshalled superbly by the England hopeful Conor Coady, which clogged up the box. Chelsea managed a solitary shot on target throughout the first half, Patrício turning Gonzalo Higuaín’s shot round his near-post comfortably enough, with everything else blocked, suffocated or repulsed with relative ease. It would eventually take something stunning, fizzed from Hazard’s right foot, to find a way through.

Yet the finish was out of keeping from so much that had gone before. There had been a murmuring of discontent at the half-time whistle, the exercise of attack versus defence having lacked any of the drama needed to enthuse locals driven to distraction by the lack of incision. Instead, it was hard not to admire Wolves’ stubborn refusal to yield, with Coady, Willy Boly and Romain Saïss such an imposing barrier, both wing-backs closing down space energetically, and Rúben Neves, Leander Dendoncker and João Moutinho a first line of defence flung down across midfield. The visitors did not even seek to close down Jorginho, the perceived route to success against Chelsea. Instead, they offered him no hint of space to pass the ball into.

That approach has yielded 10 points from nine games against the division’s elite six clubs to date this term – they go to Liverpool on the final afternoon – with theirs always a potent threat, too, on the counter. The warning signs had been there in the five minutes leading up to the interval. A side who had been utterly preoccupied with defending their lines up to then had twice hinted at reward on the break, first when Neves was granted the time to conjure a glorious pass which cut out heart of the Chelsea defence only for Diogo Jota to collect the ball on his arm, and then when the striker overhit a through ball which had threatened to send Jiménez clear.

Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Raul Jimenez scores their first goal during the Premier League clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Photo: David Klein/Reuters
Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Raul Jimenez scores their first goal during the Premier League clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

That combination would prove more ruthless just before the hour-mark. Their goal had been sparked by Boly’s hacked clearance out of the penalty area, the ball hooked on by Moutinho before Jota and Jiménez took over. The pair exchanged neat passes as Chelsea, suddenly flustered, heaved to reimpose some defensive shape. As it was, César Azpilicueta’s dart across on the cover only succeeded in flicking Jiménez’s shot up and over the on-rushing Kepa Arrizabalaga, with the ball dribbling over the line.

The youthful urgency of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi was charged with the ensuing salvage job, with Patrício thwarting Higuaín and Pedro. The Portuguese goalkeeper would tip away Willian’s curled attempt as time ticked down, with Didier Drogba, up in Roman Abramovich’s box in the west stand, and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink fidgeting in their seats up in the stands. Yet Hazard would not be denied. A few weeks ago, this team might have succumbed in similar circumstances. As paltry as a mere point may have felt, at least they have rediscovered some fight. – Guardian

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