Sitting pretty; that’s the only way to describe Chelsea at the moment. Top of the Premier League by eight clear points, everything is rosy in the garden of Antonio Conte.
After a week in which we took four points from a Liverpool-Arsenal double header, the trip to Burnley offered up its own challenges. The Clarets have been in sensational form all season at Turf Moor, and the Blues had to be on their guard against Sean Dyche’s side.
In the end, a 1-1 draw – earned after Robbie Brady had cancelled out Pedro’s early opener – was probably a fair result for both.
We can enjoy a mini-break from Premier League action now with our next fixture being a home date with resurgent Swansea a week on Saturday. This week, it’s the fifth round of the FA Cup and the trip to Molineux to take on Wolves.
As you are probably already aware, Conte has used the FA Cup as a vehicle for fielding fringe players and the next generation of Blues stars, and it will be interesting to see if he sticks with that theme on Saturday.
Given that our schedule is reasonably kind at present, there must be a temptation to play a strong side with another piece of silverware in the offing – doing the double in your first season in charge? Very nice.
But then there is that sense of loyalty to the players that have driven the Blues through the two previous rounds of the competition with a pair of fine displays.
So which way will Conte go?
Chelsea Team News
Our conclusion as to the whole ‘stick or twist’ debate is that he will probably do a bit of both.
Anybody who follows David Luiz on Instagram will know that he underwent a pretty serious-looking treatment on Sunday for the knee injury he suffered, and is still suffering with, following that brutal foul that earned Sergio Aguero a red card in the game against Manchester City. The Brazilian is unlikely to be risked against Wolves, with John Terry deputising as he has for most of this FA Cup campaign.
Gary Cahill has played in all but one of Chelsea’s Premier League outings, while the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso have also been well-used. While progress in the FA Cup would be nice, any payers needing a rest will take this opportunity to do so.
So Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante will surely put their feet up, as will Diego Costa and Pedro.
But otherwise, a strong Chelsea side is expected as Conte seeks double success in 2017.
Wolves v Chelsea Head to Head
Naturally, the paths of Wolves and Chelsea cross less often these days, and in fact they haven’t played each other since 2012; so any usual inferences that can be drawn from head-to-head stats are mostly redundant here.
It will perhaps come as no surprise to learn that the Blues have won nine of their last ten encounters with the West Midlanders, and that record at Molineux reads W3 D0 L1 since the year 2000.
How the Match Will Be Won
The key thing to note here is that Wolves are only six points off the relegation places in the Championship, and so that gives an oversight into how they are struggling at present. They’ve lost four of their last five league outings and are in trouble of being sucked into a survival battle in the coming weeks.
Their major malfunction is their home form: they have taken just 15 points at Molineux this season; only Wigan have taken fewer on home soil in the Championship. Whatever the reasons for that, they are likely to be exacerbated by the visit of a young and hungry Chelsea side.
Wolves have conceded 24 in 15 on home soil this term, and their last appearance – the 0-1 defeat to relegation-threatened Wigan at the weekend – was a real sickener. They may have dominated possession, but they failed to create any glorious chances in front of goal. They have now won just twice in their last ten appearances at home.
They were impressive in seeing off Liverpool in the fourth round of course, but that was a much-changed Reds side. Wolves went up to Merseyside in the eye of the perfect storm, and came away victorious.
The heavy investment made in the summer on largely underwhelming players, plus the bizarre appointment of Walter Zenga as manager, has derailed Wolves’ season beyond reproach. They are good enough to stay up this season, and the Blues must be wary as this fixture is their cup final. But, frankly, they are lacking in the quality to really trouble even a second-string Chelsea side; one that is still packed with huge talent.