Watford winning second ball in midfield
Throughout the game, Watford were able to win the ball in midfield. In doing so, they disturbed Chelsea’s combinations on the frontline, were able to maintain wing possession during long play (especially in the opening stages), and created a platform to launch counter attacks.
During the opening stages, Watford were able to build with possession as a result of winning the second ball in midfield consistently. In their possession the central midfielders dropped to support the central defenders on the ball, and provide some good forward options.
Pereyra was good at receiving the ball with his back to play, using flicks and dribbling to beat the pressure from behind. He could combine with Femenia, which would lead to a good chance later on in the match. On the other side, Richarlison was their outlet to launch counters from the back (long throws by Gomes). His quick, direct and aggressive dribbling with the ball, where he was always trying to go past the defenders, caused problems and won his team free kicks; but, for most of the game, Rudiger and Azpilicueta were able to control his attempts to dribble.
When Watford’s possession was pressed back and to the side, forcing them to play long, their ability to win the second ball allowed them to sustain possession and restrict Chelsea to counters and defending deep.
Chelsea’s offensive corners
After a good opening period, Chelsea’s counters and set pieces caused problems and led to Watford going behind.
In their offensive corners, Chelsea made use of the space on the edge of the box through short corners, especially when taking the corner quickly for Pedro’s goal.
The space on the edge of the box was available due to Watford’s deep zonal setup, requiring them to move out quickly to pressure and block the ball with numbers. Since Pedro’s shot was hit with such precision, there wasn’t any opportunity for the defenders to make a block. Fabregas’ movement around Hazard was also important here, as it drew Femenia back to open the passing lane to Pedro.
On the corner prior to this, Chelsea tried to get the ball to Pedro under similar circumstances — but this time Richarlison was back in position behind Doucoure early and not late at getting back (due to the speed of the short corner); Rudiger was inside the box; and Azpilicueta was the one to take the corner quickly.
Another point worth mentioning about the corner setup is that Chelsea had three of their best shooters on the edge of the box, so if the first was pressured they always had two more options to pass the ball—as happened at the next corner, where Luiz had a shot on goal.
Chelsea possession after the goal advanced up the wings on a couple of occasions, usually the left, before switching to the right. Throughout the game, Chelsea could often find the pass up to Hazard or Pedro from the wide central defenders, but Watford’s pressure from behind often forced the first time pass outside to the wing-back as the only option upon receiving the ball—blocking the inside combinations.
Opening stages of the second half
In the second half, Watford continued to profit from winning the ball in midfield to score and create chances.
Fast, direct counters from winning the ball when Chelsea had opened up made use of the space on the side of Chelsea’s three central defenders, where the wing-backs were too high to recover in time. Watford did this most notably for their second goal, when Chelsea (still having problems building short from goal kicks) played long to Morata. Even though Chelsea won the second ball on this occasion, Watford’s ability to maintain pressure prevented Chelsea from achieving any sort of control of the ball—eventually leading to Pereyra winning the ball.
Just before the second goal, the aggression and competition for the ball in the middle allowed them, once again, to create a good chance for Richarlison. When Chelsea tried to press after playing long from Alonso, Pereyra found space behind Hazard and on the outside of Bakayoko, and Femenia on the outside of him to combine to go past Alonso—similar to the problems Manchester City caused Chelsea. As Femenia advanced into space up the wing, Cahill was too high to recover quickly enough (after moving up to pressure) and Luiz had gone out to the wing as cover. This left Rudiger against Deeney and Richarlison, with Azpilicueta arriving back late after being one of the players pressing the long ball from Alonso.
Not long after Richarlison missed a key chance from a set piece, Chelsea made their first change of the match to bring on Batshuayi for Morata. Since Chelsea weren’t having a lot of success through playing forward centrally, Batshuayi came on and began making runs behind the defence as opposed to standing to receive with back to goal.
The next change brought Willian on for Alonso, with Azpilicueta moving to left wing-back and Pedro dropping back to right wing-back. In some possession moments, both Willian and Hazard were on the right to combine, and with Pedro also on the right they could begin to cause problems. Hazard’s run behind and Pedro’s dribble inside won the free kick for Batshuayi’s first goal.
Another factor was that Chelsea’s wide central defenders could have time on the ball, since Watford’s wide players held back to try to keep the lines tight. The central midfielders continued to push up on Chelsea’s to prevent them from facing play with the ball, but Hazard moving deep for the ball allowed Chelsea play forward.
One area where Chelsea were weaker with the change was defensive free kicks. They lost their organisation at the far post for one free kick from the right.
This is usually different, as Alonso is the man to defend wide free kicks at the far post. As seen early on in the game, Watford always look to get a man free on the outside, where Pereyra was blocking Alonso from behind.
The final change brought Zappacosta on, who had an instant impact. His direct game with the ball, using his speed to run at defenders, made Chelsea more aggressive in possession and is reminiscent of the changes Chelsea would make at the start of last season—with Moses and Pedro coming on to take on the defender every time they had the ball.
Watford’s ability to either win the second ball or pressure broken play caused Chelsea problems throughout the match. Both Chelsea and Watford were able to profit from set pieces: Chelsea found spaces on the edge of the box during offensive corners, and created chances through quick corners and free kicks; Watford’s ability to sustain attacks after delivery into the box, such as Doucoure’s alertness for his goal, was their key strength once again.
After Watford missed a key chance to go 3-1 up in the second half, Chelsea’s changes allowed them to overload on the right, use Hazard to drop back for the ball to play forward, and more possession of the ball to prevent Watford from causing problems with broken play.