Diego Costa did not get the chance to say goodbye to the Chelsea support when he left the club under such a cloud in 2017 after his falling out with the manager at the time, Antonio Conte. The centre-forward was able to do so here – only not as he might have wanted.
Costa’s full debut for Wolves was low on impact and his team were 2-0 down and heading for defeat under the interim manager, Steve Davis, when he saw his number go up on 56 minutes. To the arch-competitor, it must have stung.
Still, Costa decided to enjoy the moment. He was on the opposite side to the dugouts and so he took the scenic route around the pitch and in front of the Matthew Harding Stand as play resumed. After two Premier League titles and 52 goals in 89 league appearances for Chelsea, his place in the hearts of the fans is assured and how they serenaded him.
There were smiles from Costa, high fives for a few supporters, and quite what those in the visiting enclosure made of it is anyone’s guess.
Costa, though, was only the sideshow, however prominent and entertaining. The story was of another assured Chelsea performance, hard on the heels of the 3-0 Champions League win over Milan here last Wednesday. That and Wolves’ continued travails in front of goal. They remain stuck on three for the league season, which was a big part of the decision to sack Bruno Lage last Sunday. They created a few good openings but they are deep in a rut, the confidence so low.
Chelsea were full value for the victory and it could have been by an even wider margin. Graham Potter will not fuss too much over that. Kai Havertz scored the first with a looping header in the 45th minute, Christian Pulisic got the second – his first of the campaign and one that will surely pep him – and Armando Broja, on as a substitute, rounded things off with his first goal for the club.
Potter had made wholesale changes from the team that beat Milan, retaining only three outfield players – Kalidou Koulibaly, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Mason Mount. It did not really feel like a gamble, more a decision born of necessity. It paid off as Wolves remained in the relegation places.
All eyes had been on Costa before kick-off, and there was a nice moment for him when the Chelsea fans took up a chorus of “Diego” from the Wolves end and sent it around the rest of the ground. The forward acknowledged the gesture by applauding with his hands over his head.
Costa almost shaped the game in the early running when he peeled wide after an Adama Traoré burst to pull back for Matheus Nunes. The midfielder could not get a clean connection to his volley, Conor Gallagher working back to unsettle him. That would be as good as it got for Costa.
Potter went back to a back four, even though it was more of a three in possession, with the right-back, César Azpilicueta, pushing high. Azpilicueta was prominent in the first half, repeatedly finding spaces, and the frustration had begun to bubble among the home support because, until Havertz scored, they could not find a way through.
José Sá needed to be sharp in the Wolves goal, the pick of his first-half moments coming when he tipped away a Pulisic curler that was bound for the far top corner. It was one of those saves that looked better with each replay.
Sá had previously got down to push away a first-time Jorginho shot and Chelsea could also point to an early Gallagher effort that flashed just past the far post and a Pulisic header which went high from an Azpilicueta cross. He ought to have done better.
When it came, the Havertz goal felt a little soft from a Wolves point of view, even if it was sparked by an excellent Mount cross, dug out from the right. Havertz went up with Nélson Semedo and Sá appeared to be wrongfooted by the looping header, which seemed to hang into the air for an age before plopping down and in.
Nunes was unafraid to step up with the ball. He was a bright spot for Wolves, his best moment coming when he released Gonçalo Guedes with a lovely pass after a surging run on 22 minutes. Guedes was fouled on the edge of the area and, from the free-kick, João Moutinho worked Kepa Arrizabalaga. Nunes also headed high after a ball out wide to Traoré and a sprint into the box.
Pulisic’s goal was made by a lovely reverse ball from Mount and the finish was tidy, a perfect chip into the far corner. Before that, Havertz had headed high and after it, Havertz failed to beat Sá when one-on-one.
Wolves’s woe was summed up when Costa’s replacement, Hwang Hee-chan, shot weakly at Arrizabalaga when gloriously placed. Broja woulds show him the way, cutting inside Max Kilman, who gave him too much room, before finding the far corner.