Eden Hazard scored a stoppage-time equaliser to rescue a point for Chelsea against Wolves at Stamford Bridge.
Hazard curled into the bottom corner in the second minute of added-time to deny Wanderers a memorable victory and ensure Chelsea remain unbeaten in the Premier League since their 6-0 thrashing at Manchester City last month.
Maurizio Sarri’s future at the club had been brought into question following that defeat, but this point keeps the Blues well in contention for a top four place.
Raul Jimenez finished off a swift counter-attacking move to put Wanderers ahead with their only shot on target nine minutes into the second half.
That looked to be enough, particularly when substitute Willian saw his curling effort well saved by Rui Patricio late on, but Hazard struck to salvage a draw with his 16th goal of the season.
Despite only managing two attempts on goal all game, Wolves may feel aggrieved at only securing a point having defended diligently, restricting Chelsea to half-chances and efforts from distance.
Chelsea only had one shot on target during the first half, an effort from Gonzalo Higuain from a tight angle that was comfortably pushed behind by Patricio.
Maurizio Sarri’s side improved after going behind, with Pedro having a shot tipped over before Higuain failed to convert when the ball flashed across the box following a corner.
It was hard to see Chelsea scoring as the game entered added time but Hazard showed neat skill to turn away from Ruben Neves and finally beat Patricio from 18 yards.
Hazard secures unlikely point
Chelsea were looking to maintain momentum after back-to-back wins in the Premier League had eased some of the pressure that had been growing on Sarri after his side’s thrashing at Etihad Stadium last month.
Another loss here may well have put his position under scrutiny once more, but Hazard’s late intervention makes it three league games without defeat and seven points from nine since that defeat to the champions, though they have exited the FA Cup and lost the Carabao Cup final on penalties during that timeframe.
After making a number of changes for Thursday’s Europa League last-16 first leg win over Dynamo Kiev, Sarri restored many of his key players to the starting line-up, including Hazard and N’Golo Kante.
However, they were subdued for much of the game, particularly during the first half where they managed just one shot on target.
Chelsea enjoyed 75% possession but precious little of it was in dangerous areas, with Wolves content to sit back and look to hit on the counter.
Half-hearted penalty claims were turned down when Hazard’s corner hit Jimenez on the arm as he attempted to clear.
Romain Saiss then had to be alert to clear the ball away from Hazard after Willy Boly’s headed clearance inadvertently landed in his path.
Jimenez’s goal after the break jolted Chelsea into action, with Pedro and Higuain going close, but it took a dramatic intervention from top-scorer Hazard to finally breach the Wolves backline.
The point was not enough to move Chelsea back into the Champions League qualification places, had they won they would have moved fourth, two points behind Tottenham and still with a game in hand.
Instead, they remain sixth, locked in a tight battle with Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester United for the final two spots in the top four. They do, though, also have the chance to qualify for next season’s Champions League by winning the Europa League and take a 3-0 lead into Thursday’s second leg of their last 16 clash with Dynamo Kiev.
Wolves continue to impress
They may have only managed one shot on target, but this was far from a smash-and-grab by Wolves.
The Black Country club have won more points against the ‘big six’ sides than any other club outside that group and have also taken points away at Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham this season.
That success has been achieved by being well organised in defence but also having a clear gameplan to counter-attack with speed.
That plan worked to perfection when, having restricted Chelsea to half-chances, Wolves struck with their first shot at goal 11 minutes into the second half with a move that started in their own penalty area.
Willy Boly’s clearance found Joao Moutinho, who immediately found the onrushing Jimenez. The Mexican striker strode forward and exchanged passes with Jota, before forcing the ball beyond Kepa Arrizabalaga via a deflection off Cesar Azpilicueta.
Wolves were forced deeper as Chelsea pushed for an equaliser but held firm, with captain Conor Coady marshalling the back three.
Leander Dendoncker also proved to be an efficient screen in front of the defence, with no Wolves player making more tackles or interceptions than the Belgian.
The fact Wolves, promoted from the Championship last season, are disappointed to only take a point is testament to the progress they have made this season.
But they can take plenty of encouragement from this performance as they prepare for their FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United next weekend.
Man of the match – Leander Dendoncker (Wolves)
‘We missed a very great opportunity today’ – what they said
Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri told Match of the Day:“We were a bit unlucky because we conceded the goal in their first situation inside our box after 55 minutes. We need to move the ball faster and play one or two touches not five or six like today so we have to do better when we face a team that doesn’t want to play.
“It is very difficult to play against 10 opponents in the last 25 metres. They [Wolves] were not organised, they defended very low, they didn’t need any organisation in that case.
“We tried to change with [Ruben] Loftus-Cheek because he is a good presence in the opposing box and [Callum] Hudson-Odoi because to have someone able in the one-on-one situation is very important.
“In the last 20 minutes we played a new system, 4-2-3-1. For Jorginho it is very difficult to play when the other players don’t have movement without the ball. When I decided to play 4-2-3-1 Jorginho was not suitable.
“In the last minutes we were losing so we have to accept the result. We missed a very great opportunity today but we have nine opportunities.”
Wolves boss Nuno Espírito Santo, speaking to Sky Sports:“We performed well. It was the individual quality of one Chelsea player which allowed them to score.
“My players are sad because they know they had it. They’ve done a fantastic job. We were very organised and played with a great shape.”
Wolves captain Conor Coady, speaking to Sky Sports:“When you give Eden Hazard a chance on the edge of the box he is always going to score.
“It was so disappointing to concede so late. It’s a sucker punch at the end.
“There’s no real fear from us coming to places like this. We know we can sit deep and attack on the counter. Our goal was outstanding but we’re gutted.”
Wolves still unbeaten in London – the stats
- After a five game winning run against promoted sides at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have now failed to win two of their last four such home matches in the Premier League (P4 W2 D2 L0).
- Wolves are now unbeaten in six league games in London this season (W3 D3), their longest such run in the capital in the top-flight since November 1974 (11 games).
- Of the clubs not in the ‘big six’, Wolves have picked up at least two more points against that group than any other Premier League team this season (P9 W2 D4 L3 – 10 points).
- Eden Hazard’s equaliser was his 50th Premier League goal at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea, becoming the third player to do so for the club in the competition after Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.
- Only Cesc Fabregas (6) has assisted more Premier League goals for Chelsea’s Eden Hazard than Willian (5).
- No player has scored more Premier League goals within a single season for Wolves than current striker Raul Jiménez (12 – also Steven Fletcher in 2011-12).
- Wolves duo Diogo Jota (one goal, two assists) and Raul Jiménez (two goals, one assist) have directly combined for each of their sides last three Premier League goals.
Chelsea take a 3-0 lead into their Europa League last-16 tie away at Dynamo Kiev on Thursday (17:55 GMT). Wolves take on Manchester United live on BBC One in an FA Cup quarter-final at Molineux next Saturday (19:55 GMT).