Chelsea have lost many home games over the past season-and-a-half, but this defeat to Wolves which saw Gary O’Neil’s side climb above the Blues in the Premier League table feels more significant and damning than most of those.
In a week where Mauricio Pochettino’s side were hammered 4-1 away at Liverpool and the gulf in class between the two sides was clear for all to see, Chelsea needed a response against their fellow mid-table opponents at Stamford Bridge.
Instead, what they got was quite the opposite. What looked to be a promising afternoon after Cole Palmer gave Chelsea an early lead quickly turned sour when two deflected goals from Matheus Cunha and Rayan Ait-Nouri put Wolves ahead at the end of the first half.
Cunha added another after the restart when picked out by Pedro Neto and completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot with less than ten minutes to go.Embed from Getty Images
The home side failed to live with Wolves’ attacking talent, particularly Pedro Neto, who gave Ben Chilwell a torrid afternoon out on the right wing. Cunha too was excellent, with his direct running at the Chelsea back-line causing all sorts of problems, including for his penalty which saw Malo Gusto bring him down with a last ditch sliding challenge.
Losing to Jurgen Klopp’s title-chasing Liverpool at Anfield is one thing, but being comfortably beaten at home by a side who have spent considerably less than them and whose ambitions at the start of the season were very different to Chelsea’s is a much bigger problem for Pochettino.
The Blues boss acknowledged the importance of bringing winning football back to Stamford Bridge after taking over at the club in the summer following a miserable last season which saw the team finish 12th in the league. There is still a Carabao Cup final to look forward but based on current performances, even the most optimistic of Chelsea fans would find it difficult to predict anything other than a defeat to Liverpool at Wembley.
Chelsea’s form of late, especially at home, had been more encouraging. The game against Wolves presented an opportunity to show that the defeat at Anfield was just a blip in what had otherwise been a positive turnaround of late.
But this was another reminder of how far away Chelsea are from the Premier League’s elite sides despite the enormous investment made in the playing squad. That is a difficult reality to accept when you have splashed more than £1bn on transfer fees over the last four transfer windows.
Pochettino admitted everyone, himself included, have not been good enough following the dreadful defeat. “I think we are all not good enough, that’s the reality,” Pochettino said. “Myself also, as the first person responsible. Of course, what we showed today was that we are not good enough. I agree, 100 per cent.
“We didn’t manage the situation properly, and I don’t want to come here and say I am the best and the players are the worst – but the players have to take responsibility as I do. We are not matching the history of the club.”
The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge after Wolves had gone in front, then added to their lead further, was a mixture of both anger and apathy. Some supporters still had the energy to let their frustrations be known but for some, they have become resigned to this being the new normal for a club who not all that long ago were consistent title contenders and expressed their discontent with their feet by leaving early.
Patience with Pochettino is starting to wear thin and for many fans it has gone altogether. The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge resembled something similar to the end of Graham Potter’s reign as Blues boss and the reality for Poch is that Chelsea are in near enough the exact same position as they were a year ago when Potter was in charge.
Perhaps the most telling moment of the day was when the travelling Wolves support made their feelings about how poor Chelsea are be known with an explicit chant, to which Chelsea fans too joined in with. There were plenty of boos as well, including when Raheem Sterling was subbed off in the second half.
A toxic atmosphere spelled the end for Potter at Chelsea. Will it for Pochettino too?