Jose Mourinho's season started with an intensely annoying 2-2 home draw against a team Chelsea might have expected to beat. So too did Gus Hiddink's. Given the chance to earn back to back Premier League wins for the first time all season and buoyed by a good performance against Sunderland last weekend, the Blues contrived to gift a point to Watford.
That's mostly thanks to a pair of utterly ridiculous* penalties. I doubt we'll ever really get to the bottom of what Nemanja Matic was thinking when he flapped his arm at Ben Watson's corner in the first half, but Oscar's late miss at 2-2 is somewhat more explicable: we are the victims of some sort of devastating cosmic curse. If anyone's been building a home on ancient burial grounds or something, please stop now.
*Normally when we describe penalties as ridiculous, we're implying that the referee made a mistake, but Andre Marriner got both decisions 100 percent right, and had a reasonably good game.
Watford aren't a bad side, although our metric for 'bad side' will have changed a little over the past few months. They came into Stamford Bridge a weekend removed from humiliating Liverpool 3-0 at Vicarage Road, a credible performance for any team, let alone a newly-promoted one, and although the opening exchanges went almost entirely in Chelsea's favour, there was little sense of them collapsing a la professional collapse machines Sunderland.
In fact, they defended very well. For the first 10 minutes, the Blues had something above 75 percent possession, but the visitors were organised well enough to limit our chances to a series of corner kicks. Had the match continued in that mode, Chelsea might at least have been confident in keeping a clean sheet. Alas, it rapidly became apparent that the Hornets were merely drawing out our sting so that they might go on the offensive.
With Cesc Fabregas committing himself up the pitch in support of the attack, there was a disturbingly large hole in the midfield, and Watford threw themselves into said hole with commendable enthusiasm. If not for some strange misses from on-fire Odion Ighalo, the Blues might have found themselves behind as early as the 18th minute -- a snap volley in acres of space plus a free header from a corner* were both deposited uncharacteristically wide.
*For our purposes, it's safe to characterise any header Cesar Azpilicueta is challenging for as a 'free' one.
Chelsea had completely failed to test Heurelho Gomes while they were in control of the match, so naturally they scored once they went onto the back foot. A smart pass from Willian to Diego Costa won the Blues their (approximately) 4,510th corner of the match, and for once we were able to do something with it. John Terry and Gary Cahill both went for the initial cross, and this apparently confused the Watford defence enough for them to let Costa turn and volley the loose ball home.
Scoring the opener gave Chelsea an obvious lift, which might have taken us all the way to the half had it not been for the previously-mentioned moment of insanity from Matic. The penalty was set up by a foul from Cahill on Ighalo, which led to Matic deflecting Jurado's shot out for a corner, which led to Watson lofting in a high ball to the centre of the box, and that somehow led to Matic waving his arms around despite being presented with a straightforward clearance. It's not every day you see a player manage to get called for a handball when a cross is literally going to hit them in the face, but this isn't an everyday season.
Troy Deeney sent Thibaut Courtois the wrong way to make it 1-1.
Halftime brought with it a change. Hiddink, perhaps annoyed at the weak play of his midfield, or perhaps looking ahead to Monday's match at Old Trafford, withdrew Fabregas for Eternal Hero John Mikel Obi. If it helped, it only helped a little -- Watford were still able to attack, and it didn't take very long for them to take a deeply annoying lead.
Ighalo has scored by the tonne this season, and he was never going to keep spurning chances, especially if we insisted on gifting them to him. One of our defenders gave him ample assistance just before the hour mark, giving him room to take a shot by backing off him in a blind panic, and then helpfully applying a massive deflection on said shot that wrong-footed Courtois. To complete the picture, I'll suggest that the defender in question wore the expression of a confused and perhaps frightened squirrel for this entire exchange. Or I could just say it was Cahill. You probably guessed.
Chelsea have been playing reasonably well even after falling behind of late, and Ighalo's unfortunate strike pushed us into a higher gear. Watford were pinned back into their own half and subjected to a bombardment of crosses which gave Gomes plenty to do but failed to generate much in the way of clean chances. Instead, we found the equaliser through a different and rather unexpected route: the near-mythical 'through ball to Costa'.
Yes, the striker was perhaps a hair offside when Willian found him with a defence-splitting diagonal, but a) I don't care and b) his finish was good enough that it's hard to blame him for a fractionally mistimed run that the officials didn't even notice anyway. Having left Craig Cathcart and Miguel Britos in the dust, Costa proceeded to round Gomes and roll the ball just inside the far post. It was 2-2, and Chelsea had new life.
We'd have had a lot more than that if Oscar hadn't had one of the world's classic penalty whoopsies with 10 minutes left to play. Eden Hazard, returning from the injury that knocked him out of the Leicester City loss, managed to torch the Hornets defence within seconds of appearing as a substitute, winning a penalty by baiting Velon Behrami into a ridiculous challenge from a fairly innocuous position. Oscar scored from the spot against Sunderland, but this time he slipped as he was taking the kick, scooping the ball over the crossbar with the sort of strike that would have seen him sent off if it had been applied to someone's legs.
The visitors probably had the best chance to win it late on, although it was Chelsea who applied most of the pressure in the closing stages. Ighalo and Deeney combined to generate a free shot for the latter with Courtois committed, but Cesar Azpilicueta rescued his goalkeeper with a deft block. There was, of course, the late, long-range hit from Mikel that buzzed just wide, and I'd kick a frightening number of puppies to live in a universe in which it had swung inside the post. But alas, I live in this universe, and this universe likes upsetting me.
Oh, and Costa got himself suspended against Manchester United with a late yellow card. Hurray!