A Blue Up North reviews Chelsea’s victory away to Watford.
This season’s Boxing Day Premier League fixtures included a late evening kick off between Watford and Chelsea at Vicarage Road. The hosts went in to this tie unbeaten in their previous 3 league matches, which had helped them climb up to a very commendable 7th place.
Chelsea, on the other hand, had lost their first home match of the season last time out and had been defeated twice in the last 3 away league matches. And after the rest of the top 6 had already played earlier in the day, The Blues found themselves down in 5th spot, a full 14 points behind the leaders.
The expectation was that Maurizio Sarri would make changes to his first choice starting line up after they had failed to score last time out and the quick turnaround of matches. However, the Italian surprised most by naming the same side, with Eden Hazard leading the attack, flanked by Willian and Pedro, Mateo Kovacic in midfield and Marcos Alonso at left back.
Despite having had a week of full training, Alvaro Morata was not even named on the bench, and after taking a knock, Ruben Loftus-Cheek was also missing. His place on the bench was taken by Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Watford were missing Will Hughes, Andre Gray, Sebastian Prodl and Adalberto Penaranda, but manager Javi Gracia was still able to name an unchanged, strong line up that has been enjoying an impressive run, including winning their last 2 league matches.
It was a tight opening to the match as Watford’s pressing stifled Chelsea’s passing. Willian was then able to break free down the left, but his shot hit the outside of the post. Watford defender Christian Kabasele was then hospitalised when he slid in to the same post in trying to keep Willian’s effort out.
Even with the change at the back, Watford held on strongly. They were also a threat on the counter attack. Troy Deeney’s strength and Roberto Pereyra’s pace and skill were able to turn the Chelsea defenders but even with the support of Abdoulaye Doucoure and Gerard Deulofeu they were unable to really test Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Meanwhile, Pedro set up Cesar Azpilicueta who put in a devastating cross which somehow Eden Hazard completely missed when a simple tap in would have brought up the Belgian’s 100th Chelsea goal.
Then Pedro suffered after a crunching tackle and was replaced by young Callum Hudson-Odoi. The 18 year old probably wasn’t expecting to even be on the bench a couple of days ago, but on 43 minutes he was trusted to enter such a tough encounter.
As the first half was drawing to a stalemate close, Mateo Kovacic stole the ball on the half way line and The Blues charged forward. N’Golo Kante ran to the right and the space opened up for Hazard on the left. This time, Chelsea’s brightest star made no mistake and became only the 10th player to register 100 goals for The Blues.
Incredibly though, the lead did not last til the break as Pereyra spectacularly volleyed in from Jose Holebas’s cross and we were back to square one. This was fairly harsh on the visitors who had edged the play and the chances up until then.
The second half started in a similar vein. Chelsea continued to try to control the match, but this is a very tenacious, resilient Watford side. Then as Deulofeu went over too easily in a challenge with David Luiz in the penalty box, referee Martin Atkinson correctly waved away the Watford protests.
Just a few minutes later, however, Watford keeper Ben Foster showed how a penalty should really be conceded. As Hazard ran clear in to the box, the former England international completely took out the Belgian, who got back up and turned 100 goals into 101 from the spot.
The home side continued to try to get another equaliser, but the few chances they had rarely troubled Kepa’s goal. In reality, it was The Blues who came closest to scoring again. Kante and Willian could have given the score line a more comfortable appearance, but the victory was secured anyway.
The only other issue for Sarri was that not only did Pedro leave the field with an injury, but his replacement, Hudson-Odoi, also took a knock and was substituted himself.
In what was a hard fought match, The Blues were able to bounce back after their surprise defeat at home to Leicester City at the weekend. The Hornets gave them as good a challenge as anyone has so far and we should not underestimate how important it was for Sarri’s side to rise above and take all 3 points.
Injuries to 2 players playing the same position aside, Chelsea enjoyed another successful Boxing Day. The Blues have only lost once to teams starting a matchday in the top 10 so far this season, and that is a great foundation on which their attempt to finish in the top 4 can be built upon.
With Premier League matches against Crystal Palace, Southampton and Newcastle coming up, The Blues should have a chance to build on this win and gain some more momentum.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue