Premier League

Wolverhampton-Chelsea Preview

Both Chelsea and Wolverhampton need a result at Stamford Bridge to further their respective European ambitions as the top-six sides close out the season in London on Sunday.

A draw for Frank Lampard's side would see the Pensioners through to the Champions League for a third straight season. Chelsea (19-6-12) enter this match fourth, trailing Manchester United on goal difference but also only one point better than fifth-place Leicester City. Those two sides face off at Old Trafford, so a United victory would also book Chelsea's spot in Europe's top club competition.

A Foxes' triumph, though, would require Chelsea to at least take one point from this match since they cannot erase an inferior goal difference of plus-13 compared to United's plus-28.

That lack of goal difference given Chelsea's creative flowing offense will be an offseason focal point regardless of the European track they take next term after their second-leg round of 16 Champions League tie versus Bayern Munich - Chelsea's 54 goals shipped are the most of any team vying for a top-four finish since Norwich City surrendered 65 in 42 matches in the first season of the Premier League in 1992-93.

Those occasional torrid displays of defending were on display Wednesday at Anfield, where Liverpool ran them ragged at times in a 5-3 victory to celebrate their first Premier League title in club history. There were some bright spots - Christian Pulisic provided a thunderous run to set up a goal by Tammy Abraham before scoring himself after entering the fray as a second-half substitute - but five of the seven shots Liverpool put on target were picked out of the back of the net by Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Despite needing only the draw to secure a top-four finish, Lampard has insisted his team will not play in a defensive shell to gain that point.

"No, we will approach the game to win it. There is no other way to approach a game of football," the gaffer said at his Friday press conference. "We will do that, prepare right, respect our opponent. They are very good, we have seen that all season, we are aware of the situation but we will try to win.

"The goal was to get in the top four and improve this squad and try and develop and be as good as we can be. Now we have the opportunity of top four and it's a huge game ... I know how strongly I feel about this weekend and how up for it I am. I will try and convey that to the players, and the rest is down to them on the pitch. I have a real sense the players understand the position we're in."

Lampard expressed hope midfielder N'Golo Kante would be available for selection, with the France international returning to practice this week. Kante has been sidelined for three weeks with a hamstring injury suffered in a 3-0 win over Watford on July 4.

Pulisic also may have done enough to force his way into Lampard's first XI after his effort at Anfield. The American international has four goals and two assists in nine matches across all competitions during Project Restart.

While Chelsea need only a draw for Champions League, Wolverhampton (15-14-8) need all three points to ensure a second straight appearance in the Europa League, where they are still trying to claw their way into the Champions League as well. Wolves are one point better than Spurs for sixth, with the Europa League berth up for grab given Manchester City have vacated the spot awarded to the Carabao Cup winner with their second-place finish in the table.

Nuno Espirito Santo's team look to have shaken off the disappointment of crashing out of Champions League competition, taking seven points in their last three matches after dispatching of Crystal Palace 2-0 at Molineux on Monday. Daniel Podence opened his Wolves league scoring account after Matt Doherty did well to fashion a scoring chance from Joao Moutinho's ball over the top, and Jonny Otto secured the three points midway through the second half.

While fully realising what is at stake, Nuno appears to have found intrigue in the love of the match since both teams clearly have something on the line for this encounter.

"Our players love to compete, they want to play the game, they want to try and do things well, searching for the improvement of the team. We're always looking for a new challenge, and a new game is a new chance to do things better," he said at his Friday press conference. "This game is no different than any other. The approach is exactly the same, knowing Chelsea is a very good team, full of quality and talent in their squad.

"They play good football and we want to compete. We have one more training session tomorrow, so let's prepare it well to compete on Sunday. Then, what happens after, we will see."

This will also be the 300th appearance for Doherty, the Ireland international who has quietly became one of the more underrated wide backs in the Premier League. He has totaled eight goals and eight assists since Wolves earned promotion for last season and looked back on a career that included back-to-back relegations before the climb back up.

"It's something 'Coads' (Conor Coady) mentioned to me the other day, but I thought I only made 250 against Tottenham, so I didn't know how many appearances I had," Doherty joked.

"To be at the club for almost 10 years and survive through different managers, different owners, different ways of playing and seeing the huge amount of turnover of players, it makes me feel proud that I've been able to survive. It must mean that I'm doing something right and playing well."

Chelsea, though, carved open Doherty and Wolves back line in the reverse fixture at Molineux, storming to a 5-2 victory at Tammy Abraham had a first-half brace and added a third after intermission. He also contributed an own goal for Wolves, but his hat trick was bracketed by Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount.

Wolves did nick a point in last season's trip to Stamford Bridge, but they are 0-1-4 there in the Premier League era and winless in eight (0-2-6) visits since a 2-1 victory in the First Division in March 1979.

Updated July 25, 2020

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