Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 Chelsea: 5 Blues lessons learned

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Chelsea FC - Premier League
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Chelsea FC - Premier League / James Baylis - AMA/GettyImages

Chelsea fans endured a disappointing Christmas as their team suffered a fourth consecutive away loss. Wolverhampton Wanderers secured victory in the match due to Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Jackson's struggles in front of goal. Mauricio Pochettino's man-management skills remain under scrutiny for their perceived shortcomings.

The match encapsulated Chelsea's season, with Jackson and Sterling squandering numerous chances and displaying a lack of proficiency in finding the back of the net. A returning player succumbed to injury, adding to the team's woes. Additionally, the defense committed avoidable mistakes, gifting the opponents goals through silly errors.

Here are three lessons learned from the match.

1. Pochettino continues to complicate his job unnecessarily.

It was evident to anyone with a sense that Chelsea needed to deploy fullbacks in their natural positions rather than relying on defenders ill-suited for those roles. Malo Gusto and Ian Maatsen proved instrumental in the victory against Newcastle United last Tuesday. Despite having the duo at his disposal, the Argentine coach persisted with starting Levi Colwill as left-back and only Gusto starting. Pochettino's penchant for playing individuals out of position continued, exemplified by having Nicolas Jackson as a left-winger instead of Mykhailo Mudryk, the goal-scorer who thwarted Newcastle's victory in the dying minutes.

A competent coach would prioritize getting the fundamentals right from the start. It should be the move when the team is having an inconsistent form. However, Pochettino seems resolute in unnecessarily complicating matters, seemingly driven by peculiar preferences. Regardless of complaints about injuries and player age, unless he focuses on executing the basics effectively, it's unlikely this approach will elevate Chelsea to its rightful place.

2. Chelsea's aspirations could face significant challenges if they persist in relying on Jackson and Sterling.

Sunday's match underscored the flaws in the board's recruitment process. In football, winning is impossible without scoring, and consistent goal-scoring requires either an experienced, proficient striker or a young player with substantial potential and a track record of making the right moves in their career. Unfortunately, Jackson fits neither category. Moreover, Sterling's propensity for more missteps than successful moments creates an unfavorable setup, positioning the team as a potential contender for the league's laughing stock.

Sterling's decision-making falters when he has ample time before a crucial step, contrasting with his effectiveness when relying on instincts. Given his experience, expectations will be there for him to be at least decent. In the match against Wolves, he missed an opportunity to make a simple pass to two players waiting to tap the ball into an open net. Instead, he chose to strike directly at the goalkeeper. A player with even a bit of awareness would have observed the free players beside him or noticed the goalkeeper's movement, allowing for a chip or a skillful maneuver around before taking the shot. Eden Hazard excelled in precisely such situations, showcasing a mastery of this aspect of the game.

Chelsea leads the Premier League table for big chances missed this season, with Jackson contributing the most. While some supporters might draw comparisons to Didier Drogba's early struggles or point out similarities in goal-scoring patterns of past top scorers, such arguments do not change the fact that Jackson has displayed shortcomings in front of goal. The Senegalese striker has managed seven goals in the league, including one against Sheffield United in an open-net scenario. Notably, three goals were scored against Tottenham Hotspur, taking advantage of a high defensive line and a numerical disadvantage. However, even in that match, Jackson's overall performance was subpar.

3. The limitations of Chelsea's medical team persistently come to the forefront.

Lesley Ugochukwu returned to action for Chelsea after being sidelined for a month due to injury. Unfortunately, his comeback was short-lived. He had to leave the field in the 58th minute due to another injury. This recurring theme of players facing fitness issues has persisted for Chelsea over the last few seasons, with returning players often finding themselves back on the sidelines shortly after their return. Surprisingly, the board has not taken measures to address and rectify this ongoing situation.

4. Silly mistakes continue to haunt the Blues.

Watching Chelsea's starting back-four commit bizarre and avoidable mistakes to gift an advantage to Wolves was perplexing. The defensive lapses weren't limited to the backline, as Conor Gallagher also contributed with errors. It's unusual to witness one defender making such schoolboy mistakes in the top flight, let alone nearly half of the team. Eventually, the mistakes were punished, with Benoit Badiashile, who came on later in defense, inadvertently providing Matt Doherty the opportunity to score the second goal for the Wolves.

The Chelsea players grappled with footing issues, with several slipping and struggling to maintain stability on the pitch. In contrast, none of the Wolves players seemed to face similar challenges.

The initial goal stemmed from subpar marking during a set-piece, underscoring an ongoing weakness in Chelsea's defensive approach. It's been nearly six months under Pochettino's tenure, but the team's defensive issues remain unresolved. Meanwhile, other clubs, like Bournemouth, experiencing recent managerial changes, have witnessed overall performance improvements. Pochettino continues to blame challenges on player age and injuries while potentially neglecting his role in addressing defensive frailties, which is notable at Chelsea.

5. Among the substitutes, there were a few positive performances.

On Sunday, Christopher Nkunku made his Premier League debut. The Frenchman forced a goal-line clearance before scoring a goal in the limited time. His performance emphasized that talent shines through when given the opportunity. Mudryk continued to display progress, building on the positive trajectory visible in recent months. Noni Madueke made a lively return from injury.

While Maatsen's introduction in the defense positively impacted Chelsea's attack, there is a lingering concern that Pochettino's preference might result in starting a center-back as a left-back in the next match to make things complicated for no reason.