Chelsea made hard work of dispatching an up-and-coming Watford side Saturday afternoon at Stamford Bridge. Led by manager Marco Silva and young striker Richarlison, the visitors surely felt they deserved more from the game, as they forced Chelsea into yet another nervy, error-strewn performance. But after three games without a win, the Blues finally emerged victorious, in yet another six-goal thriller, the second in four days after the 3-3 against AS Roma in midweek. Goals from Pedro, Azpilicueta, and two from supersub Michy Batshuayi ensured that Chelsea took all three points and jumped back into the top 4 in the Premier League.
Following another failed test with the 3-5-2 against Roma, Chelsea returned to the proven 3-4-3 shape. Centre-back Andreas Christensen and right wing-back Davide Zappacosta, neither of whom covered themselves in glory midweek, were dropped for David Luiz and Antonio Rüdiger, respectively, with the latter then switching places with César Azpilicueta, who was tasked with providing a defensive boost against one of the best newcomers in the league, Richarlison. Meanwhile David Luiz was given the thankless duty of keeping Troy Deeney in check, both on the ground and in aerial duels, and did so superbly.
Chelsea's jitters coupled with Watford's fearlessness made for an exciting, high tempo affair from the first minute to the last. Watford’s wingers were a constant danger, especially the aforementioned and very direct Richarlison on the their left flank — with former Juventus-man Roberto Pereyra no slouch on the right either. Chelsea’s primary plan of attack involved long passes from Cesc Fàbregas, aiming at the wide forwards, Pedro and Hazard, or overlapping wing-backs (mostly Azpilicueta).
It was only a matter of time before one side made a breakthrough. Enter Pedro, making his first start in almost a month.
This would be the only time Chelsea would get to thank the refereeing at the game, as the corner should have been a goal kick instead. In any case, Chelsea took the corner short, eventually finding Pedro in space at the top of the box. As he has done so many times now since the start of last season, Pedro produced a world class finish from range, smacking the ball off the angle of post and bar for his third goal of the season.
20 – Pedro has had a hand in more goals in all comps in 2017 than any other @ChelseaFC player (12 goals, 8 assists). Key. pic.twitter.com/BeDwZq06oX— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 21, 2017
It was a landmark 8,000th goal in all competitions in Chelsea’s 112-year history, and the 8001st should’ve followed just a few minutes later. Hazard and Morata worked an excellent counter from Cahill’s blocked shot from Richarlison, finding Fàbregas in acres of space in the right channel. However, one on one with the hulking Heurelho Gomes, Cesc opted to chip rather than shoot and the 6’3” goalkeeper easily swatted the ball away.
The letoff from the miss, as it so often happens, galvanized the beneficiaries and the game started turning in our opponent’s favour. With help of referee Jonathan Moss, who was intent on giving soft fouls to any player wearing red who fell near either penalty box, Watford got several chances to break through the Blues defensive line. Rüdiger, Cahill and David Luiz had other ideas, and at this point, were still keen on keeping a clean sheet and cleared every attempt.
Chelsea posed a threat through long-range shooting through the half, but the final 15 minutes belonged to Watford. Richarlison had already managed to get Rüdiger booked and forced Azpilicueta to stay deep, as he continued his early-phase Cristiano Ronaldo impression, complete with tricks and thrills and of course, dives. Meanwhile, Fàbregas and Bakayoko were already gassed and increasingly below par, conceding space and free kicks with regularity. A turnover from the latter, of which there were many throughout the match, eventually resulted in one last play for the visitors before the half-time whistle. One last play was all they needed to draw level.
All of Chelsea’s good work in the first-half was thus completely undone by a poor clearance, a mad scramble, and a well-taken shot by Abdoulaye Doucouré.
For the third match running, Chelsea conceded a goal just before half-time.
Unsurprisingly, it was Watford who carried their momentum forward into the second-half. Although Chelsea got the first shot of the half (another long-range attempt from Pedro), Watford had the bit between their teeth and were going for the jugular.
Man of the moment Richarlison should’ve gotten the goal, but perhaps he was remembering David Luiz’s words that he was not allowed to score against Chelsea when he missed an open net from five yards out.
But it didn’t matter, as just a few minutes later, he turned creator and provided the assist for Pereyra’s goal. It was about the third time Chelsea were carved open in the four-minute-old half; shambolic may not be strong enough to cover whatever it was that the defenders were doing out there.
A few minutes later, it was that man Richarlison again who should’ve increased Watford’s lead, this time finding himself free for an open header in just about the same spot from where missed earlier. Azpilicueta was there, but on the wrong side of the budding star, whose header fortunately flew wide of Courtois’ post.
“What on Earth is going on?” was the line from Sky’s commentary team, as well as Chelsea fans everywhere. The prospect of a fourth game without a win and another home loss loomed large, as Watford continued their onslaught.
Watford had enjoyed great luck in finishing throughout the opening weeks of the season, leading the league by a wide margin in converting about 50 per cent of their shots into goals. Today was the day that statistic reverted a bit to the mean, as Deeney and Richarlison added further misses to their record. The Hornets finished with just 5 shots on target from 16 taken, and only 2-of-10 in the second half.
With his side crumbling in front of his eyes, Antonio Conte made several bold substitutions. An ineffective and outfought Morata (no help from the referee, that’s for sure), was withdrawn in favor of Michy Batshuayi, and many felt the head coach was simply throwing in the towel. After all, Batshuayi is the useless one, right?
Mourinho getting Salah on in extra time 5-2 down at Tottenham looked less desperate than Conte bringing on Michy with 30 to go today— Sébastien Chapuis (@SebC__) October 21, 2017
A few minutes later, Marcos Alonso made way for Willian to add extra options to the attack as Conte threw caution to the wind. After all, there were 20 minutes left and Chelsea needed at least one, but more realistically, two goals.
The two subs were heavily involved when the equalizer did come. Willian combined with Pedro for a cross from the latter, which was met by Batshuayi after a perfect run took out all three Watford defenders in his vicinity from the play. Batshuayi may never quite grasp what Conte needs from him in open play, but in a two-striker setup (since Chelsea were essentially playing a 4-4-2/4-2-4 at this point), he can show off his tremendous goal-scoring ability without any problems.
And just like that, Chelsea were back in it. Watford still posed plenty of danger, especially with Chelsea’s reduced numbers in the back and only Fàbregas and Bakayoko in midfield, but Chelsea were biting back with effect, with Batshuayi coming close twice, missing by inches from range then blasting high when it looked easier to score after a Fàbregas free kick.
Marco Silva responded by putting on a midfielder for a striker, taking off Deeney for Ben Watson, though it was not enough to stem Chelsea’s rising tide. In fact, with Richarlison now operating as a lone forward, and thus far less effective than before, the tactical change only hurt the visitors.
Three minutes from time, Chelsea’s winner arrived. It was another cross from the right side, this time Willian combining with Zappacosta, who had replaced Pedro a few minutes prior. The cross sailed over several heads before finding a glancing touch from a defender and falling to none other than César Azpilicueta on the far post — he had switched to left back when Alonso was withdrawn. Dave kissed the badge and wheeled away to celebrate madly. Comeback complete!
Watford pushed desperately for a second equalizer, but their luck had completely run out by this point and Chelsea’s was on the rise. Five minutes of added-on time followed, but it only increased Chelsea’s lead after Britos gave the ball away and Batshuayi finished coolly for his brace, making sure of all three points.
As refreshing as it was to see Chelsea get back on the winning track, it was equally pleasing to see Conte and the players respond once again at a time of great adversity and doubt. Conte’s tactical changes were spot on after several games of questionable decisions and mounting pressure.
Can Chelsea go on a nice winning run now? That would certainly be nice. For now, let’s just enjoy this emotional, fantastic come-from-behind win.
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