Marcos Alonso, Chelsea punished twice by Wolves for falling asleep at the back
WOLVERHAMPTON, England -- Three points from the Molineux Stadium on Wolves' 2-1 win over Chelsea in the Premier League.
1. Chelsea collapse after half-time
As his side collapsed in a mad four second-half minutes, Maurizio Sarri bowed his head and crossed his arms, as if silently wondering what has become of the team that went deep into November before losing a Premier League game.
In truth, Sarri has been warning about this for a while, like those scientists who have been telling everybody about climate change for decades. He knew that this was still a team in transition, still a collection of players getting used to his methods, still a work in progress. He knew that a bad spell was on its way, and here it is.
Their second defeat in three Premier League games was far more alarming than being blown away by Tottenham a few weeks ago: this was a Wolves team without a win in six, but after dominating for most of the game, they were defeated by two quick goals by Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota, as Molineux exploded.
What's worse is that Chelsea were in complete control for the first hour. They took the lead in the 17th minute, Ruben Loftus-Cheek's ambitious shot deflecting awkardly off Connor Coady's head and by Rui Patricio in the Wolves goal.
Patricio made a brilliant save from a Willian howitzer heading for the top corner shortly afterwards, but the most notable aspect of the remaining play before half-time was the performance of referee Jon Moss. One incident in particular was surreal, when he seemed to blow for a foul on Alvaro Morata in the centre circle, spoke at length to the alleged assailant Ryan Bennett only to restart play by telling Chelsea to return the ball to Wolves. Molineux scratched its collective head.
Chelsea dominated possession after the break but didn't do much with it, and Wolves took advantage just before the hour. Morgan Gibbs-White, the hugely impressive young midfielder, outmuscled Cesc Fabregas (playing the Jorginho role) then played a perfectly-weighted pass to Jimenez.
The Mexican's shot was strong but squirted underneath Kepa Arrizabalaga in the Chelsea goal: even the best keepers seem to have struggled in the Premier League this season, but it was a fairly unforgivable error from the £71 million summer signing.
And minutes later Wolves were ahead. Matt Doherty skimmed a low cross to the far post, the entire right side of the Chelsea defence stood and watched as Jota, all alone, slotted home.
A pair of goals in four minutes, a one-two punch that ultimately left Chelsea dizzy and unable to recover. For the remaining half hour or so they tried, but played like a side with nothing left. With not even half the season gone, that must be a worry.
2. Alonso's defensive deficiencies punished again
When even Cesar Azpilicueta has a bad game, you know it's going to be a bad night for Chelsea. If that was surprising, the poor performance by their other full-back, Marcos Alonso, which ultimately cost them the game, was a little less so.
This defeat had its roots in an alarming complacency: as Chelsea dominated the opening phase of the second half, they reeked of a side who thought the next goal was inevitable, that third gear would be enough to collect three points.
Perhaps that's why Azpilicueta, and more obviously Alonso seemed to lose the run of things in the four-minute spell that cost Chelsea the game. Wolves, the barnstorming Doherty in particular, targeted the latter as they chased down the game, making Alonso look foolish on a number of occasions.
Most notably of course, for the two goals: both of which came from the Wolves right, taking advantage of the gaps left by Alonso's uncertainty and basic lack of pace. At the start of the season some were building Alonso up as a world-class full-back: going forward and on free kicks, perhaps, but as tonight showed he's not world-class going backwards.
Perhaps it's an overreaction based on one poor run, but if Chelsea are to make any moves in January, surely it must be at the back.
3. Wolves revert to early season aggressiveness
In the first half, Wolves showed exactly why they had collected only a point from the previous six games. Their passing was off, their decision-making tentative but more importantly, they were much more cautious than they had been in the early stages of the season.
Back then, they looked sensational, and while suggestions they were the best team ever promoted to the Premier League were fanciful, they looked on for a top 10 finish at least.
But they looked spooked and cowed by their recent run. It's a little chicken-egg, so it's difficult to tell if they were cautious because they've been losing or they've been losing because they were cautious, but one thing is for sure, they looked a different side.
Then in the second half, a switch flicked. The first goal seemed to spark something, and suddenly the old Wolves were back: dynamic, strong on the counter, Matt Doherty raiding down the right and their midfield -- shorn of the suspended Ruben Neves hunting Chelsea's down.
They were helped out by a profoundly complacent Chelsea performance, particularly in defence, but it was an illustration of why a successful side should, under most circumstances, not allow a blip to change their approach.
Positivity is one of the reasons Wolves have excelled over the last 18 months. It's why they remain the only team other than Liverpool to take points off Manchester City this season, and was the reason they won this game. Long may it continue.