BY PAUL LAGAN
Four minutes of madness could just have smashed Chelsea’s chances of Champions League football next season as the Blues, 1-0 up against Wolves threw away three points by conceded twice at Molineux tonight to lose 2-1.
With Manchester City next up for the Blues on Saturday, a defeat to the runaway leaders will heap massive pressure on head coach Maurizio Sarri.
Other results from the likes of Liverpool and Spurs have seen them expend their lead over Chelsea while Arsenal are right on their coat tails.
Andreas Christensen, in for David Luiz started the rot with a pass that went straight to the opposition. That forced the away side back. After Willian was nonchalantly bundled off the ball, the home side’s Diogo Jota tapped the equaliser in at the far post.
Three minutes later and the opening strike by Ruben Loftus-Cheek to give the Londoners the lead was washed away – Raul Jimenez smashing the ball home past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
The Blues were wasteful in attack, with Eden Hazard and Willian the main culprits.
Up front Alvaro Morata and sub Olivier Giroud were toothless.
The Blues started well, a clipped defence-splitter by Cesc Fabregas gave Eden Hazard the chance for a left-footed volley – sadly, for him, it went over Rui Patricia’s crossbar.
Hazard had another chance on seven minutes, but his effort was a weak right-footer from just inside the Wolves penalty area.
Alvaro Morata let everyone know he was on then pitch with a nice turn and shot from long range on 13 minutes. But he left-footer was too high and sailed over the crossbar.
Loftus-Cheek, who was handed his first Premier League start by Maurizio Sarri repaid his faith by scoring the opener for the Blues on 18 minutes. He picked up the ball from just outside of the Wolves area, took one touch before letting fly with a low-right-footer. The ball took a wicked deflection off Conor Coady’s head and zipped past Patricio.
The goals panel will have tom decide if it’s was an own-goal or if that was then 22-year-old’s sixth goal in seven games.
Willian almost doubled the lead on 23 minutes, but Patricio produced a wonderful save to thwart the Brazilian’s free-kick.
Fabregas produced a goal-saving challenge on Morgan Gibbs-White on 37 minutes after Raul Jimenez nodding the ball back towards the in-running midfielder.
Ryan Bennett produced an equally brilliant penalty area challenge on Willian who was about the smash the ball home after Hazard had sent the winger free.
The Blues should have had a penalty seconds into the restart.
A blistering counter-attack involving Willian, Hazard and Loftus-Cheek saw the Lewisham-born midfielder send in the perfect cross along the six-yard line. Morata was upended by Willian Boly. The fact that it looked as if Morata had missed the ball may have caused some confusion, but TV replays showed that the Spain striker was fouled.
A Kante piledriver on 56 minutes was inches wide of Patricio right post as the Blues piled on the pressure to nab the second goal.
That miss started four minutes of madness for the Londoners.
The ball went straight up the other end and, after an inspired run by Gibbs-White, he slotted the ball into Jimenez’s path and the striker lashed home past Kepa Arrizabalaga to level the score on 59 minutes.
Then disaster struck for the Blues, firstly Christensen gave away possession, to start a Wolves attack. They got the ball back before Willian was knocked off the ball leaving Matt Doherty to produce a swift pass into the far post saw Diogo Jota tap the ball home to give Wolves the lead.
Sarri instantly replaced Willian and Morata for Pedro and Oliver Giroud.
This two strikes were the only two efforts on goal for Wolves, while the Blue had 13 up tom that point.
Sarri opted to replace Kante for Mateo Kovacic with 15 minutes left on the clock.
A powerful Hazard shot on 79 minutes suggested that the Blues still had the confidence to go for an equaliser, but with gaps appearing in midfield they were open to the counter-attack.
That’s as good as it got.
Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Rudiger, Alonso, Fabregas, kante, Hazard, Loftus-Cheek, Willian, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Morata
Wolves: Patricio, Doherty, Bennett, Jimenez, Boly, Cody, Gibbs-White, Jota, Swiss, Mouthinho, Vinagre
Subs: Ruddy, Cavaleiro, Costa, Hause, Dendoncker, Bonatini, Traore
Referee: Jonathan Moss