clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Match report: Batshuayi, Fabregas ignite Chelsea in comeback win

I can see clearly now the rain is gone.

Steve Bardens/Getty Images

With a quarter of an hour left to contest in Saturday afternoon's match, new Chelsea looked a lot like old Chelsea. Not old old Chelsea, mind you, but the weathered, arid 2015 edition. The visitors trailed Watford 1-0 at Vicarage Road, and fashioning chances much less goals looked well beyond the group.

But this isn't old Chelsea. And Antonio Conte isn't Jose Mourinho, or Guus Hiddink.

Conte shifted course and indeed his club's fortune with the introduction of Michy Batshuayi and Cesc Fabregas five minutes apart, in the process altering the team's shape. Three minutes later, the Belgian had his first goal in English football and Chelsea was on its way to yet another wild comeback.

Diego Costa added his second points-stealer in as many matches, this one three minutes from full time, with world-class assistance from Fabregas to ensure Conte's perfect start to life in Britain continued. A 2-1 victory as welcome as it was unexpected.

Two matches into last season's nightmare, Chelsea had accumulated all of one point. A year, and two managers later, six points have been secured in the span of a week. It has not been easy, but, boy, has it been better.

Better failed to describe a first half in which Conte's baseball cap was the only real talking point. A more explicit adjective was required for the opening stages following the interval, particularly the misadventures that led to the opening goal.

Etienne Capoue's left-footed volley was superb, sure, but defensive negligence once again from both Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill, hilariously unaware of the threat, haunted the visitors. Pedro, starting in place of the injured Willian, was nowhere to be seen.

Eden Hazard displayed some urgency in the aftermath, but without any real help, the Belgian only managed to look isolated and was ultimately ineffective. A penalty shout soon followed - Craig Cathcart handling a corner kick in his own area - but vehement appeals were turned away by referee Jon Moss and on merit, it was hard to really argue otherwise.

It looked bleak.

But then came the changes. First, it was castoff Victor Moses replacing Pedro. Just minutes later, Conte introduced Batshuayi and lastly, Fabregas. A natural shift to two forwards instantly energized the attacking band, while Fabregas' season debut at the expense of Nemanja Matic, who wasn't so much bad as ponderous and ineffectual, provided vision and, more importantly, guile.

Less than three minutes after exposing his hand, Conte had been vindicated. A needless giveaway by the otherwise impressive Nordin Amrabat sparked the move that led to the equalizer, but it was the movement and reaction of Batshuayi that highlighted it. The 22-year-old punished both Amrabat and Heurelho Gomes, who conceded from close range after he could only parry a simmering effort from Hazard back into play.

The visitors, now buoyed, prowled through Batshuayi again. Seconds later, Costa went down on the edge of the box, this to compliment a spectacular dive earlier in the half that probably should have led to his dismissal. Watford, panic thickening the Hertfordshire air, clung to its point.

Not for long.

With full time approaching, Fabregas, allegedly unfavored by Conte because of defensive frailty and a limited workrate, stepped in front of a pass just outside of his own box. A touch later, the Spaniard had released Costa down the inside-left channel with a pass that can only be described as angelic. This from Fabregas was the kind of influential display so common just two seasons prior.

Of course, Costa still had work to do, and, just as on Monday, Chelsea's mercurial talent displayed calm and purpose in front of goal. His finish, under Gomes, set off eleventh-hour celebrations for the second time this week.

Joy may have replaced frustration by the end for Conte, but the reason for such drama will not be lost on the Italian. Much work remains to be done, both on and off the pitch. That said, optimism has returned to West London. It feels good.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the We Ain't Got No History Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Chelsea news from We Ain't Got No History