Chelsea suffered another defeat in the Premier League, ending their 8-game unbeaten home run with a 4-2 loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers. This result allowed Wolves to complete a season sweep against the Blues, winning both home and away games. With this victory, visitors leapfrogged Chelsea to move to the 10th spot in the table.
Here are three lessons learned from the match.
1. Pochettino's strategy appeared nonexistent, leaving him outmatched in a tactical showdown with yet another opposition manager.
Wolves arrived at Stamford Bridge still reeling from a soul-crushing defeat in the dying moments against Manchester United at home, where they narrowly missed out on securing a point. Conversely, Chelsea were coming off a devastating loss to Liverpool at Anfield, putting their resilience to the test. The nature of these defeats couldn't have been more different, setting the stage for an intriguing encounter. Conventional wisdom suggested that Wolves might struggle to bounce back from such a harsh result, whereas Chelsea, facing the prospect of meeting Liverpool in an upcoming cup final, were expected to use this match as a proving ground to demonstrate their mettle.
But on Saturday afternoon, Chelsea found themselves without solutions. Despite taking an early lead through Cole Palmer, this did nothing to unsettle the visitors. Wolverhampton Wanderers had a clear game plan, and their players executed it with precision. Their resilience quickly paid off when they capitalized on Moises Caicedo's lapse in ball control to level the score. As the first half neared its end, Wolves took the lead, setting the tone for the rest of the match. They added two more goals in the second half, asserting their dominance. A late strike from Thiago Silva offered little in the way of consolation for the home side, leaving Chelsea to reflect on a game that slipped away from them.
Gary O'Neil prepared his team with a strategic plan, anticipating that Chelsea would attempt to play out from the back and a solid pressing game could force turnovers. Identifying a vulnerability in Chelsea's left flank, O'Neil directed his team to exploit this area, knowing Raheem Sterling's reluctance to track back would leave Ben Chilwell isolated. This tactical decision enabled Wolves to launch counterattacks whenever they recovered loose balls, effectively restricting Chelsea's movement and freedom on the pitch. Players like Enzo Fernandes and Caicedo were wary of Wolves' potential to break through the left side, further complicating Chelsea's game plan.
Throughout the match, O'Neil was vocal from the sidelines, continuously guiding his team even with a two-goal advantage. In stark contrast, Mauricio Pochettino appeared passive, offering no visible reactions or strategic adjustments. His decision to start Sterling following a lackluster performance at Anfield raised eyebrows. Pochettino's inaction persisted; despite Sterling's ineffective first half, he remained on the pitch, calling into question the tactical decisions that contributed to Chelsea's inability to respond effectively to Wolves' dominance.
Saturday's match was neither the first nor will it likely be the last time an opposing manager has outmaneuvered Pochettino. Despite having a preseason to prepare and more than six months into the season, Pochettino's Chelsea shows little sign of progress. Contrastingly, Gary O'Neil, who took charge of Wolves just days before the season commenced, has already left a significant mark on his team. His ability to quickly imprint his strategic vision on Wolves highlights a stark difference in managerial impact, raising questions about Pochettino's approach and the tangible improvements under his tenure at Chelsea.
2. Sterling's contribution was markedly absent, severely impacting the team's remaining dynamic.
Despite a disappointing performance at Anfield, Raheem Sterling was once again given a starting position by Pochettino. Consistent with his recent form since joining Chelsea, Sterling struggled to make a positive impact on the game. His reluctance to assist defensively left Ben Chilwell outnumbered and overwhelmed, facing opposition attacks alone.
Offensively, Sterling's contribution was lacking as well. His attempts to push forward often ended in running directly into defenders, disrupting the team's attacking flow. This match added another disappointing chapter to Sterling's tenure with Chelsea, failing to live up to the expectations set during his time at Manchester City.
It wouldn't surprise observers if Sterling is selected to start in Chelsea's upcoming FA Cup fourth-round replay against Aston Villa on Wednesday. His performances have been underwhelming, resembling those of a player overly confident in his secure position within the team, despite repeated demonstrations that his current form is far from the world-class standard some might expect of him. This ongoing situation has sparked discussions among fans and critics alike, with many considering his recent showings to be among the least effective for a winger in Chelsea's recent history.
3. Chelsea's future seems bleak, with no clear path to brighter days ahead.
Across the Premier League, teams with managers not facing immediate job security concerns have demonstrated tangible improvements in their performance. These squads show advancements in gameplay, with players increasingly making impactful contributions. While not every team can consistently secure wins, the signs of progress are evident.
For example, Ange Postecoglou's tenure at Tottenham Hotspur is a case in point. From the outset, his influence was clear, guiding the team to a strong start to the season. Despite encountering challenges, such as injuries to key players, Spurs have remained committed to their foundational principles. This dedication is paying dividends as they rediscover their form, even in the absence of pivotal players like Son Heung-min. Their approach remains unchanged even in defeat, showcasing a commitment to their core footballing philosophy.
In contrast, Chelsea's current situation starkly differs. The team seems to lack a coherent ideology or strategy, with any positive results largely attributed to individual efforts rather than a collective tactical approach. More than six months into the season, the squad still struggles with basic elements such as pace, strength, and even executing set pieces like corner routines. Players frequently find themselves out of position, and promising talents like Ian Maatsen are overlooked and profiled wrongly.
Under Mauricio Pochettino, Chelsea appears directionless and calls for change grow louder. The upcoming challenges, including the EFL Cup final against a dominant Liverpool, as well as crucial matches against Manchester City and Arsenal, loom large. Given the team's recent form, even finishing in the top half of the table seems ambitious, let alone securing a spot in European competition. Without a swift and significant turnaround, Chelsea's season risks ending in disappointment.