July 26, 2020 / 5:22 PM / 9 days ago

Chelsea earn Champions League place with win over Wolves

LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea claimed a Champions League place on Sunday as first-half goals from Mason Mount and Olivier Giroud secured a 2-0 home win over Wolverhampton Wanderers and a fourth-place finish after their final Premier League game of the season.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Chelsea v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Stamford Bridge, London, Britain - July 26, 2020 Chelsea's Olivier Giroud in action, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pool via REUTERS/Daniel Leal-Olivas

Chelsea ended level on 66 points with Manchester United, who beat Leicester City 2-0 away to secure third place on goal difference and consign the Foxes, who finished fifth on 62 points, to Europe’s second-tier Europa League competition.

Four minutes had been added to a nervy opening period at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso went down outside the Wolves area and Mount curled an exquisite free kick over the wall into the top left corner to open the scoring.

Barely two minutes later Chelsea’s France striker Giroud showed all his experience and poise when he latched on to Mount’s pass, rounded goalkeeper Rui Patricio and held off Wolves captain Conor Coady to poke the ball home.

Frank Lampard’s Chelsea side needed a point to guarantee a Champions League spot in a three-way battle involving Manchester United and Leicester City and would have felt aggrieved had they missed out after being a top-four fixture since last October.

Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo brought on early substitutes, including tricky winger Adama Traore at halftime, to put the pressure on as his side chased a Europa League place for the second straight season.

Diogo Jota forced a save from Chelsea goalkeeper Willy Caballero in the 57th minute and he and substitute Joao Moutinho looked dangerous on the counter.

But Chelsea’s defensive partnership of Antonio Rudiger and Kurt Zouma rarely looked rattled as they had in previous games.

Defeats by West Ham United, Sheffield United and Liverpool since football resumed after the novel coronavirus enforced break meant Chelsea’s qualification for next season’s Champions League was uncertain until the final day of the campaign.

Their leaky defence also contributed to a woeful goal difference, some 15 short of their rivals United.

On Sunday, Lampard dropped goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga to the bench after Chelsea shipped goals at Liverpool last Wednesday in a 5-3 defeat.

Caballero commanded his area well, though he was rarely troubled and is likely to be picked next Sunday when Chelsea take on Arsenal in the FA Cup final.

Chelsea have already strengthened their squad with the signing of forwards Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech who can look forward to playing in the Champions League next season.

Wolves finished in seventh place with 59 points, only behind Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference, and just missed out on a place in the Europa league for next season.

However, they are still in this season’s competition and will play their delayed last-16 second-leg tie at home to Greek side Olympiakos Piraeus next month with the scores level at 1-1.

Reporting by Clare Lovell; Editing by Ken Ferris

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