Two losses in four days has stalled Chelsea’s serene progress in the Premier League, turning the spotlight onto its expensively assembled attack that remains a work in progress.
Two drab draws for Manchester City in the same period is raising even more questions — notably, what has happened to what was once the most entertaining team in England?
It was an evening to forget for two of the league’s supposed title contenders on Tuesday, with Chelsea’s 2-1 loss at Wolverhampton — sealed by a winning goal in stoppage time — followed by City’s 1-1 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion, one of the favorites for relegation this season.
Chelsea missed the chance to climb into first place, at least for one night, while City squandered an opportunity to move within sight of the top two in the division, Tottenham and Liverpool.
Chelsea’s setback at Molineux followed a 1-0 loss at Everton on Saturday and both defeats have highlighted the importance of playmaker Hakim Ziyech, who missed them through injury.
Olivier Giroud, who began the season as Chelsea’s third-choice striker but is now starting regularly, opened the scoring in the 49th minute. Wolves roared back and equalized through Daniel Podence in the 66th before his fellow Portugal international, Pedro Neto, broke forward on the counterattack and drove home the winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard remodeled his attack as part of an offseason spending spree, but Timo Werner is now without a goal in eight games, Kai Havertz has underwhelmed, and another of the new signings, Ziyech, has had spells out injured.
Meanwhile, U.S. winger Christian Pulisic is feeling his way back to match sharpness after a run of injuries.
Lampard has plenty to ponder.
As does Pep Guardiola, with City languishing in sixth place after a tepid display against West Brom, which grabbed a point thanks to an unfortunate own-goal by City defender Ruben Dias in the 43rd.
City had gone ahead through Ilkay Gundogan in the 30th but struggled for imagination in attempting to break down a deep-lying visiting defense. Guardiola’s team had similar problems in attack in a 0-0 draw at Manchester United on Saturday.
With 18 goals, City is the lowest scorer of the league’s top nine teams. Guardiola has been playing two defensive midfielders since the offseason departure of long-time playmaker David Silva in an effort to give more protection to his defense, but it is robbing the team of creativity.
West Brom battled to a hard-fought point which might not be enough to save its manager, Slaven Bilic, from getting fired. Widespread reports in the British media said Bilic could lose his job on Wednesday, with West Brom in next-to-last place.
“I’m not really that bothered what’s happening behind the scenes and all that," Bilic said. "I don’t care.”
Tottenham visits Liverpool, which is second on goal difference, in the standout match of Wednesday’s six fixtures.
Chelsea has slipped to back-to-back defeats in the league for the first time in more than a year, and Lampard said his players might be feeling some tiredness amid a busy schedule that will only get more hectic around Christmas.
“There could be some fatigue," Lampard said. "I hate to say it after a defeat because it feels like an excuse but even in the first 60 minutes when we were the better team, we didn’t have a zip about us.
“We’ve traveled up to Everton, came back and then traveled to Wolves but everyone is in the same boat. We have a couple of injuries in areas which means I can’t make too many changes."
Giroud, at least, is taking his opportunity after leapfrogging Tammy Abraham into the starting lineup while Werner fills in out wide.
That's now seven goals in his last seven matches in all competitions for the France international, whose latest strike was a fierce volley that Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio got in the way of but bundled over his own line.
A sign of Guardiola’s frustration came when the fourth official raised his board to show how many minutes of stoppage time there would be.
As the number “4” flashed up, Guardiola held out both hands and pleaded with the official for more time, looking stunned at what he was seeing. He even touched the board at one stage.
It was only really in those extra minutes that City looked dangerous, with West Brom goalkeeper Sam Johnstone making point-blank saves to deny Gundogan and Raheem Sterling. A late twist would have been harsh on the visitors and flattered this performance by City, which had 77% possession while doing little with it.
“We are able to control a lot, we are conceding the minimum, nothing,” said Guardiola, whose team had a run of six clean sheets before Tuesday. “We were better in all departments, but we're struggling to score.”