Chelsea v Wolves: Lage can avoid punishment

Chelsea and Wolves are both on disappointing runs of form, and Kevin Hatchard believes the visitors can make the hosts work hard for victory...

Blues still have work to do

This time last season, Chelsea had just beaten Real Madrid 2-0 to qualify for the Champions League final, so there must've been a pang of regret at Cobham after seeing Los Merengues reach this season's showpiece by edging out Manchester City in spectacular and barely believable fashion.

After all, Chelsea succumbed to Real in similar style earlier this season, going out courtesy of the magic of Rodrygo, Luka Modric and Karim Benzema, despite a largely outstanding Blues' performance at the Bernabeu.

Chelsea's title push never truly materialised, and while it seemed at one stage that Manchester City would waltz to the title, Liverpool have closed the gap in a way that Thomas Tuchel's Blues haven't been remotely able to.

There are, of course, mitigating factors. The ongoing uncertainty about the club's ownership will have played a part, injuries to Ben Chilwell and Reece James had a huge impact (imagine Liverpool without Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold) and the big-money purchase of Romelu Lukaku has been a confusing failure.

That's not to say the season has been an abject disaster, as that would be well wide of the mark.

Chelsea were edged out by Liverpool in the League Cup final, they will face the same opposition in the FA Cup final and they are on track to qualify for the Champions League (they are five points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham). They have also won the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup this term, so there is extra silverware in the cabinet.

Lukaku was an unused substitute in the 1-0 defeat at Everton, while Chilwell and Callum Hudson-Odoi are injured.

Despite slump, Euro dream is still alive

It perhaps shows the inconsistency of everyone outside the Premier League's top two that a top-seven finish is still a possibility for Wolves. They go into the weekend three points behind seventh-placed West Ham with a game in hand, despite a run of seven defeats in ten. It's been a case of famine or feast for Bruno Lage's men in 2022, as they haven't drawn a single Premier League game since the turn of the year.

Wolves haven't even scored in their last three league games. They lost 1-0 at Burnley and Newcastle, and were swept aside 3-0 by Brighton at Wolves in a performance that manager Lage described as the worst since he took charge. There were loud boos from the Wolves fans at various stages in the game, especially at the final whistle.

That level of discontent does seem out of step with reality. Lage has delivered a strong campaign in his first season, and has kept the club a long way clear of trouble. Given that investment in the squad has been scaled back recently (the club made a transfer profit in the summer, and let Adama Traore leave on loan), a top-half finish would surely herald an acceptable campaign.

It's been a strange season when you look at the statistics. Wolves have the best defensive record outside the top three, with only 32 goals leaked in 34 games. Jose Sa's magnificent performances in goal have skewed those figures to an extent, and the Infogol xG data gives Wolves an Expected Goals Against figure of 51.7, which is an enormous differential.

While it could have been far worse at the back, it could have been a bit better in attack. Wolves have scored a paltry 33 goals, five goals below their xGF number. Robert Lewandowski has scored more goals than that on his own for Bayern in the Bundesliga this term (my daughter Maya came up with that stat, so I can't claim credit).

Daniel Podence, Max Kilman and Nelson Semedo are all still out, while Raul Jimenez should return to the starting XI after being used as a half-time sub last weekend.

Mount can bear the burden

Chelsea have only won two of their last six Premier League games, and four of their last 11 top-flight games at Stamford Bridge, and yet they are a somewhat skinny 1.38 to take three points here. Wolves are on a poor run, but they are rarely thrashed, and that debacle against Brighton might act as a wakeup call.

You can back Wolves +1.5 on the Asian Handicap at 1.84, which means you only lose your stake if the visitors lose by two goals or more, something they have only done four times in the league all season.

If you are keen to back Chelsea, you could back the Blues to win, Under 3.5 Goals and Mason Mount to have a shot on target at 2.38 on the Bet Builder. Mount is averaging 1.03 shots on target per 90 in the Premier League this term, his best ever seasonal figure.

If you just want to back Mount to score, you can do so at a hefty 2.88. He has scored four goals across his last eight games, and has 12 goals in all competitions.

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