For a second consecutive Saturday Chelsea were on their travels in the Premier League. After registering another 4 away league goals at Burnley last weekend, The Blues travelled to Vicarage Road to face Watford.
The hosts were rooted to the bottom of the table having failed to win any of their previous 10 league matches. However, after conceding too many goals earlier in the season, the culmination of which was an 8-0 thumping away to champions Manchester City, The Hornets have tightened up their defensive play and had conceded only 1 goal in their previous 3 league matches.
Frank Lampard’s starting XI included only 1 change to the team that won so emphatically at Burnley the previous weekend. That was a return to the team for Emerson Palmieri in place of Marcos Alonso.
Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores, bereft of a number of first choice players, set his team up in a containing 5-3-2 formation. However The Blues were immediately flooding into the home team’s penalty area.
Willian was the epitome of Chelsea’s desire to attack their opponents and was regularly running with the ball through midfield and looking for a defence splitting through ball.
But it was Jorginho who provided the killer pass. The Italian’s searching diagonal ball allowed Tammy Abraham to run through and plant his shot first time beyond Ben Foster. It was definitely a move that Chelsea’s vice captain had been hoping to click in to place for many a game.
The Blues continued to press forward and dominate the match. Mateo Kovacic and Jorghino were commanding in midfield, Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori were solid in defence, and Chelsea’s attackers were threatening.
Willian continued with his driving runs, Abraham was only inches from sliding in a second goal and then Abraham, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic were all denied by excellent Ben Foster saves. The Watford keeper was magnificent in his goal and in keeping his side in the match.
But despite their best efforts, The Blues remained only the 1 goal ahead. With half an hour gone Chelsea could have been out of sight and the home side started to show a little belief.
The early stages of the second half continued in a fairly open manner, but it always felt that it would be the visitors who would score next.
Then a beautiful, flowing passing move saw an advancing Kovacic feed Willian, who then fed Abraham down the right. The striker’s searching cross was tapped in by Pulisic, who had simply ran past 2 statuesque defenders to gratefully get his 4th goal in a week.
That was surely enough. Chelsea had been the better team all over the park and they finally had a 2 goal cushion. Well, that was how it seemed until the 80th minute.
Deulofeu, who had been the home side’s most threatening player, received such a minimal touch in the penalty area that referee Anthony Taylor decided against awarding a spot kick, but VAR had other ideas. To the bemusement of all in blue and despite no clear and obvious error in playing on, Watford had a lifeline.
After that The Hornets steadily built momentum and enough belief that they finally started to gain the upper hand. Eventually The Blues survived the 5 added minutes and the heart stopping moment right at the end of the match.
After his heroics in the first half, Foster joined the Watford attack for the final set piece only for his diving header to be brilliantly saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga. The veteran goalkeeper was so impressed by his younger counterpart that he hugged his opposite number at the final whistle.
The win took The Blues up to 3rd in the table and their away winning streak up to a record equalling 7 matches. Meanwhile Tammy Abraham is back amongst the top EPL goal scorers this season with 9 and Christian Pulisic is up to 9 goal involvements already in just 12 appearances.
The win and the manner of most of their play certainly indicated that Wednesday’s loss was just a blip and rebuilt the belief in the team ahead of their home Champions League match against Ajax on Tuesday.
This match was a great example of the big strides forward Chelsea are making this season under Frank Lampard, but also how tough a league the top flight in England really is. With minimal big errors, either individually or collectively, The Blues came so close to only leaving with a single point against the bottom club.
Everyone in blue and also the opposing keeper clearly knew the significance of Kepa’s save at the final whistle. This really was a full team victory.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue