Chelsea sink Wolves to book place in Champions League
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Chelsea booked their place in next season's Champions League as a 2-0 win against Wolves sealed a fourth-place finish in the Premier League on Sunday.
Frank Lampard's side needed one point from their last game of the season to be sure of featuring in the Champions League for a second successive season.
First half goals from Mason Mount and Olivier Giroud at Stamford Bridge ensured there was never any doubt they would achieve that target.
Despite some stumbles since the coronavirus hiatus, Chelsea held onto the top four berth that had been theirs for most of the season.
The Blues had not ended a round of fixtures outside the top four since October 6.
Wolves finish seventh and will only qualify for the Europa League if Arsenal win the FA Cup.
Chelsea can cap an encouraging first season in charge for Lampard if they beat Arsenal in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday.
They also have to face Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16 second leg, but trail 3-0 ahead of the trip to Germany in August.
It is next season's Champions League campaign that is more alluring to Chelsea, who will bank at least £50 million ($63 million) in prize money and broadcasting revenue from the competition -- cash that will help fund Lampard's on-going overhaul of the squad.
Chelsea have lost 12 times in the Premier League for only the second time since Roman Abramovich became owner in 2003, but Lampard's development of several promising youngsters has them well positioned to grow stronger next term.
It was fitting that it was one of those fresh faces, 21-year-old England midfielder Mount, who put Chelsea on course for Europe's elite club competition.
Lampard won't rest on his laurels and, intriguingly, Kepa Arrizabalaga was dropped as Argentine veteran Willy Caballero started in goal.
Error-prone Kepa, linked with a move after reports Lampard is looking at potential replacements, has struggled to live up to his price tag as the world's most expensive keeper since the Spaniard's £71.6 million ($91.5 million) move from Athletic Bilbao in 2018.
- Chelsea rewarded -
With Kepa axed, Wolves striker Raul Jimenez tried to test out Caballero in the opening seconds but the Mexican's ambitious long shot was well off target.
Chelsea controlled possession after Jimenez's optimistic effort, but Mount's free-kick was headed wide by Reece James.
Chelsea's new German striker Timo Werner, signed from Leipzig for next season, was watching in a mask high in the stands after flying into London on Sunday.
As he watched his players labour to break down Wolves -- a familiar problem for Chelsea this season -- Lampard must have wished he could call on Werner and fellow new recruit Hakim Ziyech to bolster the attack.
But Chelsea gradually turned the screw and Giroud headed over when Mount's cross found him in the six-yard box.
Pedro Neto's cross almost caught out Caballero until he adjusted just in time to claw it out from under the crossbar.
Chelsea's dominance was finally rewarded in first half stoppage-time.
Wolves were furious when Neto conceded a free-kick for a high challenge on Marcos Alonso, who seemed to exaggerate the contact.
But Mount stepped up to curl his superb set-piece over the Wolves wall and past Rui Patricio for his first league goal since March.
Lampard was celebrating again moments later.
Christian Pulisic's break caught Wolves out of position and Mount slipped a pass through to Giroud, who held off Conor Coady and rounded Rui Patricio before stabbing into the roof of the net.
Giroud's seventh goal since the coronavirus hiatus left Chelsea with one foot in the Champions League at the break.
So often creaky at the back, Lampard's men held their nerve and saw the game out comfortably in the second half.
Diogo Jota's drive forced Caballero to save, but Chelsea were never in danger of losing their prized top four place.
© 2020 AFP