Chelsea's win over Wolverhampton Wanderers 'not critical'

• André Villas-Boas already thinking ahead to Valencia
• Wolves manager Mick McCarthy envies Chelsea squad

Some level of normality has been restored to Chelsea's season. Players retired on Saturday night reassured by victory after weeks of uncertainty. Fans could depart revelling again in an efficient dismissal, illuminated by the slippery attacking of two livewire wingers and an impressively mobile midfield. Only André Villas-Boas stuck to a familiar routine. The manager's mood may have improved as he returned home, a cloud having been lifted, but this was no time for celebration. Not with football to scrutinise and future opponents to dissect on the television. This has to be only the start of the recovery.

Chelsea remain in fifth place and distant of the Premier League's summit but the first‑half goals prised from Wolverhampton Wanderers will have had a restorative effect on the team's confidence. The visitors were obliging, both in presenting the home side with opportunities and by missing the excellent chances they eked out themselves against a jittery defence.

Villas-Boas was insistent that this was "an important win" but not the be-all and end-all. It might have felt more critical had Wolves not caved in so early but, by the second half, thoughts were already drifting to the trickier tests ahead.

The first of those will be Liverpool in the Carling Cup quarter-final on Tuesday, a competition that will again offer some of Chelsea's younger players the opportunity of a first-team appearance. Romelu Lukaku, Ryan Bertrand and Josh McEachran will hope to feature. Oriol Romeu, quietly impressive in manipulating the ball from the base of midfield against Wolves, would hope to retain his place and Frank Lampard, rested here on four yellow cards, will offer experience at his side. The youthful inclusions around him will be "a worthy risk for the future of the club", according to the manager. The call has been for the owner to retain long-term vision; the manager can offer a glimpse of the team's future against Kenny Dalglish's visitors.

Yet it is in the Premier League and Champions League where Villas-Boas accepts he will be judged, and where standards had been slipping. The next month brings matches against Newcastle United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, three of the four teams above Chelsea, as well as the decisive European match againstValencia.

"That time will define the pattern of the Premier League," Villas-Boas said. "It should give us a good idea of where we stand. All of these teams sit on top of us so this means we have an opportunity. If we do well, we can overtake them. This was not a [critical] game. That game comes against Valencia [next week] in the Champions League when the team who wins will qualify for the next round. So we need to build on this victory."

The fluid movement and bite in Chelsea's midfield, combined with magnificent contributions from Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge up front, offered promise, even if fragility remains at the back. Rob Edwards and Stephen Ward should have scored twice apiece for Wolves.

Chelsea's wingers proved more ruthless after Nenad Milijas's pondering in possession and Wolves' indecision at the resultant corner allowed John Terry to open the scoring. The Chelsea captain was later booked for time-wasting and will miss the visit of Liverpool.

Wolves will have expected more than this, particularly given the anxiety that had gripped the majority in the arena in the opening exchanges. Instead, they offered up the worst possible combination: they were profligate in attack, slack at the back. "You could sense the relief when Chelsea scored," said Mick McCarthy. "It was everywhere: fans, players, coaching staff, manager. But I'd sooner be under pressure with the squad he has than a lot of others, believe me." His own side were depleted here, injuries and suspensions having stripped them of key personnel. They will hope they can find more rhythm when Sunderland visit on Sunday.

Chelsea can only seek to maintain this kind of momentum. In the aftermath there were supportive words from Mata for the manager who brought him to England last summer, to suggest this squad remains united and committed to the man in charge. "He is very warm with us, very close to us," said the Spaniard. "He is roughly the same age [34] as most of the squad, and that is a really good thing. His age is not important. He won every tournament he could win with Porto, and having had that experience at his age shows how good he is.

"We all have a lot of faith in ourselves as a team, in our coach, in the quality of the squad. We always knew that, during the season, we will have better moments than the ones we have been through. We have done that with the victory. Every team will go through a spell like that in the season, not just us."

Wolves, with one win in 11 league games, are enduring more of a prolonged lull, though both of these teams can recover.

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