n the defense of Thomas Tuchel, he has always dismissed the idea of Chelsea as favorite for the title. But right now he’s got a fight on his hands just to keep them in the conversation.
There were so many mitigating factors surrounding yesterday’s game that it would be easy to overlook the fact that the result ultimately went with form.
It was Chelsea’s third draw in their last four games – and the fifth time they’ve failed to win in their last eight league games.
Whatever the legitimacy of their argument for postponing the match – which is open to debate – it has prolonged a slump that risks seeing them lose sight of champions Pep Guardiola.
City are in the kind of mood where it’s hard to see where their next loss will come from. Chelsea, meanwhile, look like a team that has forgotten how to win.
In the context of a positive six-player test for Covid, a draw at Wolves could be seen as a point won. In the context of their current form, it was business as usual – and business right now is not good.
History dictates that City do not let the dominant positions in the table slip away. It’s a team that sets the pace before leaving its rivals in its wake.
So while six points before Christmas is certainly not an insurmountable lead, it represents an intimidating gap for Chelsea – especially at a time when they are looking at their most fragile under Tuchel’s reign.
An eight-game winning streak for City is the type of relentless streak that crushes the minds of their rivals. It’s the type of form that puts every game played by Chelsea – or Liverpool, second in jeopardy. Put on a bad foot and he will be punished.
Chelsea’s position was quite difficult even without a Covid outbreak. But the loss of so many key players at a time when Tuchel needs all the help he can get has only exacerbated their problems.
While the German was still able to name a top-class talented starting XI at Molineux, he was deprived of the game changers needed to overcome such tight competitions.
No Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz or Timo Werner to provide the tip – or Callum Hudson-Odoi to unlock the Wolves defense.
As a result, they only recorded one shot on target from Christian Pulisic, who really should have found the back of the net head-to-head with Jose Sa in the second half.
If the opportunity had fallen on one of Chelsea’s recognized forwards, would that have been another story? May be. Maybe not – this is what makes it so difficult to rate this game in isolation.
With a squad fully available, Chelsea are quite capable of wasting such opportunities – as has been the case during their current crisis.
Tuchel was honest enough to admit this, saying: “The problem is not the points we lost today.
“The points that hurt are the ones we lost at home to Man United, Burnley and Everton. These are the six points that hurt and not today.
Now the question is where Chelsea go from here. They didn’t want this match to go on – and the very real possibility of new Covid cases could soon ensure that the Premier League won’t be able to ignore further calls.
While football may need a breaker, Chelsea look like they can personally benefit from a reset.
The problems did not start with the epidemic that beset them last week. They’ve been evident from the 1-1 draw with Manchester United last month – but Tuchel couldn’t stop them.
Instead, the same mistakes were repeated with almost every point given up – whether it was defensive fragility or wasted attacking.
The assumption is that Tuchel would appreciate the opportunity to get back to basics on the training ground and reinculcate his core values.
If there was anything to cheer on yesterday, it was his team’s determination under difficult circumstances.
After appearing to feel sorry for themselves in the first half, they took control in the second, although they rarely seemed to find a winner. He also ended a six-game streak without keeping his clean sheet.
But, in the end, it was new ground lost on City in a title race that may soon elude them.