Premier League 2018/19: Wolves vs Chelsea Tactical Analysis Statistics
Artwork by @chapulana.

Stop the press, Wolves have won! After conceding an unfortunate goal in the first half, it seemed that Wolves’ dismal run was set to continue and Chelsea were going to leave with three points. Two goals in four second-half minutes turned the game on its head and gave the Black Country side the best result of their Premier League campaign so far. In this Premier League tactical analysis, we are going to look at how all three goals were scored, two match-winning tackles and we’ll have a brief look at the rising star that is Morgan Gibbs-White and his performance against the likes of Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante. A brief look for now, a more in-depth one will follow in the coming days.

Adaptation Rather Than Wholesale Changes

Nuno’s belief in his 3-4-3 system didn’t dwindle against Chelsea, although, he did tweak it ever so slightly. In essence, the formation became a 3-4-1-2 at times with Gibbs-White playing in the hole behind the two Wolves goalscorers, Jota and Jimenez. One of Gibbs-White’s tasks was to nullify Fabregas’ ability to play football in the same way that Dele Alli did just that for Spurs against Jorginho. Gibbs-White, an U17 World Cup winner with England, did much more than that and even though there were times when Fabregas was arguably given too much time, Gibbs-White was feaunrless from the word go.

Sarri perhaps made a change too many as he rotated his side. Jorginho, Kovacic, Luiz, Pedro and Giroud were all left out for Fabregas, Loftus-Cheek, Christensen, Willian and Morata. To put it simply, Chelsea are a different animal completely without Jorginho in the side. Did Sarri underestimate Wolves by not playing Jorginho in the league for the first time this season? Maybe. Did it prove decisive? 100%. Let’s have a look at how both teams lined up and rated, courtesy of SofaScore.

Little Mistakes, Big Consequences

Chelsea, as you would expect, started the stronger of the two sides. They did this without really creating many opportunities, though – a half-chance here, a long-range effort there. It seemed like Wolves were bang out of luck when Loftus-Cheek’s effort flew beyond Patricio via the head of Wolves skipper, Conor Coady. Let’s take a look at that goal and see if there was anything different Wolves could’ve done to prevent Loftus-Cheek from taking the shot on in the first place.

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
A clear plan is in place.

Similar to the Newcastle vs Chelsea game we looked at in the preview, Wolves have basically set up as a 5-4-1 when defending, with one key difference. Moutinho has gone to press the ball rather than waiting for the Chelsea pass into the forwards. The marker which is in the circled area illustrates where Moutinho should perhaps be rather than closing the ball down. It’s totally understandable why the ball is being closed down, however, it disjoints the midfield four.

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Chain reaction.

Due to the ball bypassing Moutinho, it now, in turn, means that Ryan Bennett has to break the defensive line to fill the position that Moutinho vacated. As you can see, that leaves a rather sizeable gap in behind Bennett and room for Morata to work in. Either way, Loftus-Cheek has got his back to goal with two Wolves players in relatively close proximity, what’s the worst that could happen?

Occupy The Lines

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Whose man is he?

Loftus-Cheek does well to play the ball out to Eden Hazard before finding a pocket of space in behind Matt Doherty. Naturally, Doherty has gone to close Hazard down as the last thing you want to do is give him any room within 30 yards of goal, however, shouldn’t Jimenez be doing that? Doherty leaves the defensive line looking skewed and Alonso is doing a great job of keeping Bennett busy. For a change, I’m not putting the blame wholly on Doherty, as the move was only able to begin by Moutinho pressing where it wasn’t really needed. Hazard plays the ball in between Jimenez and Doherty, Loftus-Cheek turns, takes a touch out of his feet and has a speculative attempt on the Wolves goal. Coady tries to head it out for a corner, doesn’t get enough on it, 1-0 to Chelsea. In Coady’s weak defence, if he hadn’t have headed it, the ball may well have fallen into Morata’s path. It all worked out well in the end for Wolves, mind.

Two Last-Ditch Tackles Save The Game

Either side of halftime, Ryan Bennett and Willy Boly kept Wolves in the game with two tackles that would make any defender in the world proud. Before we look at Boly’s, we’ll look at how Ryan Bennett seemingly morphed into Usain Bolt and prevented Willian from making 2-0 to Chelsea before the interval.

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Negative points all over.

From a Wolves point of view, there are so many things going wrong here. The centre-half triangle of Boly, Coady and Bennett is pointing the wrong way as Coady is meant to be the base of the triangle, not the point. Like many before him, he gets drawn into trying to win the ball off Hazard which leaves us in the above situation, him frantically tracking back. Vinagre is far too flat-footed which is annoying as he’s probably the only player that could keep up with Willian in a foot race. The only player apart from Ryan Bennett, that is. On the far left-hand side, from a Chelsea perspective, they have a man in a ridiculous amount of room because Doherty was pressing high up the pitch as Wolves sought an equaliser before the break. Inadvertently, it left Nuno’s side with this precarious outlook.

Bennett Blasts Willian

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Bennett has no right to win this.

A few points on this image. Firstly, Rui makes the correct decision to stay on his line in this scenario as if he comes out, Willian’s decision is made up for him and he’d more than likely dink it over Portugal’s number one. Secondly, if Coady didn’t go to press Hazard and kept his position, he would be able to make the tackle. Penultimately, where on earth is Doherty? Lastly, Vinagre should be doing more than what he is, it’s almost as if he’s resigned to the ball going in. That might seem harsh, however, the image of the Leeds defence steaming back against Wigan in great numbers always rings true in my head and if Bielsa’s side can do it, why can’t ours?

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Have some of that!

From nowhere, Bennett puts in a thunderous tackle on Willian, wins the ball and prevents the Brazilian from getting a shot on goal. It’s a tackle that dreams are made of. Yes, it could be argued that it was risky as if it was mistimed in the slightest it would’ve been a definite penalty, nonetheless, it was risk worth taking and then some. Jimenez and Jota may have scored the goals for Wolves, but this tackle was as equally important. As was Boly’s, which we will look at now.

Boly’s Brilliance

Wolves were seeking to get back into the game early in the second half and while that’s all well and good, it left Nuno’s side open to Chelsea’s counter-attacks. A quick turnover of possession left Wolves’ three centre-backs in a 3 vs 3 situation.

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Hazard is the danger man.

On a positive note for Wolves, Doherty, Moutinho, Saiss and Vinagre are in front of the two Chelsea players which are pressing forward. Loftus-Cheek and Hazard interchange with one another before Loftus-Cheek finds himself with an easy ball to play to Alvaro Morato which should, emphasis on should, be an easy finish for the Spaniard.

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Loftus-Cheek does everything right.

From the above image, Morata somehow ends up goal side of Willy Boly which results in Boly having to produce an insanely good tackle to prevent Chelsea’s lead from being doubled.

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Boly comes from behind to win the ball.

Interestingly, even though Boly’s tackle is from behind, none of the Chelsea players really appeal for a penalty. Yes, Boly wins the ball, but if that was at the other end of the pitch, you’d imagine the Wolves players would be going ballistic. Strangely, the referee/linesman awarded a goal kick rather than a corner which indicates that Boly didn’t get the ball. Surely, the decision should have been a penalty or a corner to Chelsea? It can be those decisions which decide games. Regardless, it was a beautiful tackle from Boly.  

Jimenez!

Wolves’ equaliser is very, very special. I’ll show you the main points before showing the video from it. Doherty plays the ball from the right-hand side into Morgan Gibbs-White who has found more than enough space between Chelsea’s lines.

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Gibbs-White lets the ball run across his body before exploiting the space.

You do have to wonder how many other players would’ve had the foresight to drive into the central space. Others may have played the ball back to Doherty down the channel, which wouldn’t have been the worst ball in the world, in the end, Gibbs-White dynamism created the goal which brought Molineux to its feet.

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
Pinpoint pass from Gibbs-White.

Whilst driving into the space, Gibbs-White shrugs off Fabregas and holds off Kante like they’re amateurs. Kante is a World Cup winner and Gibbs-White is holding him off like he’s Sunday League, it’s amazing and then to top it off, the pass through to Jimenez is a delight. Jimenez rifles it under Kepa’s legs and Wolves are back in the game. Without Gibbs-White, the goal wouldn’t be possible, but let’s not take anything away from Jimenez, he has been on a horrid run in front of goal yet he still keeps going. Top marks to the Mexican. Here’s the video of the goal which has been pulled from Twitter: https://twitter.com/13R377_K/status/1070825964089806852

Diogo Jota!

Diogo Jota, at long last, got his first ever goal in the Premier League to give Wolves the winner. Gibbs-White was just as key to the winner as he was to the equaliser. Snapping at Willian’s heels meant the Brazilian ran into the dead end that is Joao Moutinho and that’s what kickstarted it all, see below.

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
The ball is won back.

Joao takes the ball off Willian far too easily. Willian, like a petulant child who has lost his favourite toy, complains to the referee that it was unfair, but Jonathan Moss is having none of it and Moutinho picks his pass.

Wolves Chelsea Premier League Tactical Analysis
One touch cross from Doherty.

Doherty’s delivery is bang on the money and Jota, who is screaming for the ball, opens his account for the season. Fantastic intelligence from Jota to stay on the blind side of the Chelsea defence and even though it was his first in the Premier League, it’s highly unlikely he’ll score an easier one. The mixture of sheer relief and ecstasy on Jota’s face when he was celebrating was one of the images of the season so far and fitting that it won the game for Wolves.

Final Thoughts

Wolves face Newcastle on Sunday at St James’ Park and on the back of that result against performance, there’s every chance Wolves could make it two wins on the spin ahead of the clash with Bournemouth at Molineux on the 15th. Throughout this season, there has never been a question regarding whether or not Wolves can play against any of the big sides, it’s the ‘lesser’ ones, ala Cardiff and Huddersfield, that Nuno’s team have struggled against. An intriguing clash awaits vs Newcastle. Until the next time.


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