And what became of the new manager bounce? This goalless stalemate was, in Chelsea’s defence, always a case of trying to break down a stubborn Wolves side, who arrived in their shells and rarely ventured out. But for all their latent impetus, Thomas Tuchel’s reign rarely came close to starting with a sparkle, let alone a firework at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea kept a rigorous stranglehold of possession but lacked the imagination to reward it, with Tuchel yet to imprint his plan on a starting line-up that saw notable change. It might not have been the bold step into a new era many hoped for, but rather a match that illustrated the transition between old habits and new ideas, complete with fresh promise and familiar flaws. It has only been 24 hours since Tuchel took his first training session and this was, if anything, more of a dress rehearsal.
So what can be gathered from such a short trial run? This was, after all, only a small glimpse of what will surely be a tactical assault under Tuchel. There were, though, at least plenty of statements of intent. The first, and perhaps most controversial, was delivered exactly an hour before kick-off and was hardly an endearing gesture to those left nursing sympathies for Frank Lampard. Mason Mount, the fans’ luminary, a Lampard flag-bearer, and not least the club’s most consistent performer, was dropped to the bench, along with fellow academy graduates Reece James and Tammy Abraham.
But then, this was never an exercise in smooth passage from one dawn to another. Curtains aren’t so much lowered at Chelsea, they fall like a guillotine and Tuchel’s approach was starkly different from the outlook. A veteran back-three was rooted in experience, Olivier Giroud started up front, and Jorginho was reinstated as a midfield metronome.
It was an inevitability, rather than a credit to Tuchel, that Chelsea started with urgency. For the outcasts, this is a chance of redemption and, perhaps, a little vindication.
That being said, one of the players with the greatest point to prove is Callum Hudson-Odoi, who never quite endeared himself to Lampard, and started in an unfamiliar right wing-back role. Excitement around the 20-year-old has not always been realised thus far, but he appears to be the brightest early benefactor of Tuchel’s arrival, breathing life into a game that drifted at a soulless pace, darting in behind Wolves’ defence and floating balls towards Giroud.
His vigour was not always matched by his teammates, though. This was a draw that sagged under the weight of expectation, a pattern of relentless Chelsea possession but little more. It was not for their want of trying. Tuchel was not so much coaching from the sidelines as targeting individuals, puppeteering movements and establishing his own order to tackle the lethargy and inertia of spirit that has afflicted Chelsea in past weeks. Clearly, it won’t be shaken easily, but his approach promises to be refreshing and, eventually, uncompromising.
One player who it does seem will be afforded a certain sense of freedom is Kai Havertz, whose difficulties since arriving last summer have been well documented. It is no doubt imperative to Chelsea that their £72m investment is not drowned in a pitfall of confidence and few will be more aware of the German’s talent than Tuchel. Starting in a No 10 role, he frequently had the licence to drive forwards, displayed a few subtle flicks and slight turns, but still seemed deprived of a cutting edge. That was not so much a criticism of him but one that represented the team in its entirety.
Chelsea did come close to collapsing Wolves’ stubborn defensive unit but frustration was the defining characteristic of this game; Giroud’s frustrated screams often outmatching the quality of his tricky chances scuffed.
When the openings finally did arrive in the dying stages, they came as an avalanche, but it was all too late for a romantic winner. It might be a disappointing result, but new tactical seeds are already starting to be planted. For the sake of Tuchel, it will not be too long before they start to flourish at the surface.
Four other talking points
Possession: Chelsea made more successful passes in the first half than in any of their Premier League games since 2003/04, according to Opta.
Lack of mobility: For all their prowess with the ball, Chelsea’s periods of greatest threat came down the wings, when getting in behind Wolves’ back three. With Havertz and Ziyech often almost playing in parallel positions tucked in behind Giroud, there was a tendency for play to become mired in the middle of the pitch, a little static and risk-averse, without the necessary runners off the ball to force a decisive spark.
Rudiger: Chelsea’s players were forced to come out in defence of Rudiger after reports that he had played a role in Lampard’s sacking. The German has never been a peripheral figure, though, even if his game time has been limited, and he was restored to the heart of defence by Tuchel. Strong and outspoken, he was assured throughout. There’s no chance he is going to fade away quietly.
Academy future: So where does Tuchel’s appointment leave the academy? It’s easy to be drawn into sweeping statements from tonight’s starting line-up, where the likes of James and Mount were particularly surprising absences. It is not a definite return to old ways yet, though. After just a few hours with the squad, Tuchel opted for experience. That is not necessarily a tell-tale sign, rather a calculated gamble.