Pedro Neto fired in a stoppage-time winning goal to crown a spectacular comeback by Wolves and inflict a punishing defeat on a Chelsea side who had briefly threatened to stumble to the top of the Premier League. After a humdrum first period Olivier Giroud opened the scoring with a beautifully taken goal, but Daniel Podence drew Wolves level with an even better one before Neto claimed a precious win for Nuno Espírito Santo’s team. Chelsea have lost consecutive league matches for the first time in over a year.
Frank Lampard, ever eager to deflate expectation around his lavishly assembled team, had insisted that his side’s defeat at Everton last weekend came as no great surprise, that a team in a relatively early stage of development can be forgiven the occasional lapse. The Chelsea manager’s lineup certainly did not suggest he was spooked by anything he saw at Goodison Park, as he made just one alteration to the side that started there, with Christian Pulisic beginning in place of Mateo Kovacic. That meant Giroud started for a third successive league match up front even though Tammy Abraham had persecuted Conor Coady at Molineux last season, scoring a hat-trick in a 5-2 win for the visitors.
Nuno has been in situ at Molineux for more than twice as long as Lampard has been in charge of Chelsea but Wolves are in the throes of a major transition, one complicated by the loss of Raúl Jiménez. Coady, however, remains a constant fixture, the centrepiece of Wolves’ defence as Nuno reverted to a back three in an effort to avoid falling to a third straight league defeat for the first time in two years.
Caginess characterised a low-tempo first half in which play from either side rarely surpassed the prosaic. Wolves began brightly enough, with Nélson Semedo and Leander Dendoncker exchanging nifty passes before the wing-back fired wide from 20 yards. Three minutes later Coady even stepped into midfield before unleashing a shot from long range that swerved way wide.
Chelsea’s response came mainly down the left where Pulisic, in particular, tormented Semedo, with frequent assistance from Ben Chilwell and Mason Mount. When Pulisic produced a bewildering change of pace to beat Semedo and cross in the 15th minute, Timo Werner failed to apply a decisive touch from 12 yards. There has been a concerning flakiness to the German since his much-trumpeted arrival at Chelsea and he, like Kai Havertz and Mason Mount, struggled to exert regular influence in this match.
When Werner switched flanks with Pulisic after about half an hour in a bid to contribute more, Chelsea suddenly started routing their attacks down the right. But they still lacked fluency and it was telling that Chelsea’s clearest chances in the first period came from corners.
Giroud soared well before heading a corner by Chilwell over the bar from six yards and then, just before the break, Kurt Zouma came even closer, leaping like an Olympian before sending a powerful header against the crossbar. Giroud could not adjust quickly enough to nudge the rebound into the net.
The only time Wolves truly worried Édouard Mendy in the frst half was when Neto unloaded a volley from 20 yards after lovely work by Podence and Fábio Silva. Mendy plunged to his right and pushed the shot out for a corner.
Wolves have a habit of improving in second halves but here they were forced on to the back foot immediately after the break. Again Chelsea concentrated their attacks down the left, where Werner began to threaten. When the German took down a crossfield pass in the 48th minute, he deftly fed the overlapping Chilwell, who pinged a cross towards the six-yard area. Giroud showed his sharpness by beating Willy Boly to the ball and sweeping a volley goalward. Rui Patrício tried to block it but could not stop it crossing the line.
Going behind roused Wolves. Silva thought he had scored an immediate equaliser, and his first goal for the club, when he turned a deflected shot by Neto past Mendy but the teenager was quickly informed that he had been offside. Then he was substituted, with Adama Traoré entering the action instead.
But it was individual brilliance by Podence that drew the home side level in the 66th minute. Collecting the ball on the left-hand side of the Chelsea box, the forward, as artful as he is fiery, fooled Chilwell with a neat twist and then tricked Reece James with a feint before lashing the ball past Mendy from 12 yards.
Now Wolves scented blood. Chelsea grew ragged. When Neto raced into the box in the 81st minute and tumbled as James made to challenge him, the referee, Stuart Attwell, pointed to the spot. But after reviewing the evidence the official ruled that James had not made contact with the forward. All of that became moot when Neto crowned a counterattack in the dying seconds, bursting past Zouma into the box before firing a wonderful low shot into the far corner.