Chelsea’s Premier League title ambitions suffer another serious blow in Wolves stalemate as Man City pull away

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  • Thomas Tuchel
    German association football manager and former player
Chelsea are now six points adrift of Manchester City at the Premier League summit  (Getty Images)
Chelsea are now six points adrift of Manchester City at the Premier League summit (Getty Images)

Even without the fog, Chelsea are in danger of losing sight of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.

A goalless draw at Wolves saw the gap between them and the reigning champions extend to six points and prolong a worrying run that is in danger of turning the title race into a straight battle between Pep Guardiola’s side and Liverpool.

Thomas Tuchel may choose to frame this game differently. He was, after all, without seven players who have been struck by Covid. Two more, in Jorginho and Andreas Christensen, were injured.

The problem for the German is that he cannot take this result in isolation. In the context of a run that has seen them win only three of their last eight in the league, it represents another costly day and a serious blow to their title ambitions.

While Chelsea toiled in the fog at Molineux, City cantered to an eighth successive win at Newcastle. They are in the kind of mood where it is difficult see where their next loss is coming from.

Chelsea, meanwhile, look vulnerable every time they step out onto the pitch of late. They did not want this game to go ahead – having an application for postponement rejected by the Premier League.

Tuchel let his displeasure be known before kick-off, saying: “We have seven positive cases, we were made to be in the bus and travel together for three hours, were in meeting together, in dinner and lunch and the situation does not feel like it will stop.”

Jorginho could yet be an eighth case, having returned a positive and negative test. It meant Tuchel named a bench of just six players, including two goalkeepers. Yet they will struggle to find too many sympathetic ears, given a starting XI still stacked with world-class talent.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

By rights Tuchel would have preferred not to have started the outstanding N’Golo Kante after a month out with a knee injury, but it was his choice to opt against selecting internationals in Ross Barkley and Saul Niguez in place of the Frenchman. Barkley was not even used from the bench, with Saul and Mateo Kovacic coming on in the second half.

So, while Tuchel was out on the pitch embracing players as if they’d overcome the odds to escape undefeated, the truth is he had the resources to win this game. Instead, for too long, Chelsea played like a team who felt sorry for themselves.

They were well off the pace in the first half and spared going behind by the offside flag and then a tame finish from Leander Dendoncker when unmarked at the far post. That is not a trait that could be associated with Tuchel or his players since he took charge in January.

Rather, they have been a team to overcome adversity, to deal with the hand they have been dealt and generally come up with the answer.

On another day, that might have been the way to describe this – and given the manner in which they have contributed to their own troubles of late – their resilience should be a source of encouragement. But they simply have not got the luxury of losing more ground at the top.

They registered just one shot on target in 90 minutes to underline just how little threat they posed to Wolves, who looked like a team that knew this game was there for the taking.

 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

They were by far the sharper of the teams in the first half, repeatedly turning over possession in midfield. Daniel Podence thought he had put Wolves ahead, but his celebrations were cut short when it was ruled out for offside because Raul Jimenez strayed beyond the last man in the build-up. It was a warning to Chelsea.

Wolves targeted the space behind Reece James to exploit, with the visitors struggling to close that gap in the first half. It was from that side that Wolves created the best chance of the half when Podence’s cross found Dendoncker unmarked at the far post, but his header was tame and straight at Edouard Mendy.

Chelsea improved significantly after the break, controlling possession further up the pitch to negate Wolves’ threat. They still struggled to create openings, but had the chance to win it in the 77th minute when Kante and Marcos Alonso combined to set Christian Pulisic free. The American burst into the box and had Jose Sa to beat on the angle, but the Wolves goalkeeper blocked his goal-bound effort.

Late on Kante had the chance to prove the hero, but his shot from close range was blocked by Conor Coady. With that went Chelsea’s hopes of a battling win and the chance to still keep City within view.

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