We all have one more box left to unbox this holiday season, as Chelsea visit Watford on Boxing Day for the final game of the first half of the Premier League season. Hopefully at the end of 90 minutes it’s not just another disappointing lump of coal and Chelsea remain still in the top four.
Coming off of the third loss of the season, and the first at home, Chelsea should be looking to react and respond strongly, just as we did after the first two defeats: the 3-1 disaster at Spurs was followed by a very good 4-0 (vs. PAOK) and the 2-1 collapse at Wolves was followed a magnificent 2-0 (vs. Manchester City). But of those games were at home; now Chelsea take to the road and to the site that witnessed perhaps the nadir of Antonio Conte’s time in charge of the club. Watford’s 4-1 win was nothing less than they deserved as Conte’s second season spiraled out of control and out of the top four.
With Sarri having basically matched last year’s points total and Cup progress through the first 18 matches of the season, the collapse of last year will hopefully serve as an example to avoid at all cost.
Date / Time: Wednesday, December 26, 2018, 19:30 GMT; 2:30pm EST; 1am IST (next day)
Venue: Vicarage Road, Watford, England
Referee: Martin Atkinson — 49th Chelsea match for the 47-year-old whom we tend to only see on big occasions. This will be his third Chelsea match of the season after the 3-2 win over Arsenal and the aforementioned 3-1 defeat at Spurs. Atkinson’s famously stringent with his yellow cards (3 total in the previous two) and more than happy to let play go on, so this will not be a game for those afraid of some physical contact.
Forecast: A cool night with light winds
On TV: Sky Sports Main Event (UK); NBCSN (USA); Star Sports Select HD1 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: Sky GO (UK); NBC Sports Live (USA); Hotstar (India); Fubo TV (affiliate link — USA only)
Watford team news: Watford started the season well, then hit a rough patch, but have recorded back-to-back victories over Cardiff and West Ham to rise to 7th place at Christmas, just two points behind recently un-Mourinho’d Manchester United.
It’s unclear exactly how Javi Gracia has managed to get them that far, given the tools he has to work with, but veteran goalkeeper Ben Foster continues to be solid and former Udinese star Roberto Pereyra is living up to his billing even as the strikers continue to misfire (Deeney and Gray have three goals each in the league so far). One-time Chelsea youth player Domingos Quina, now 19, is starting to get serious minutes as well, having started two of their last three games in central midfield — and he even scored what proved to be the winning goal against Cardiff!
As ever, there are no easy games in the Premier League and the Hornets certainly won’t be pushovers either.
Chelsea team news: Chelsea haven’t lost on Boxing Day since 2003 (4-2 to Charlton!), and will be looking to keep that streak alive by hopefully fielding a motivated, goal-hungry lineup. Sarri has rotated at least half the team for every midweek match up to this point, and one would assume he’d be ringing in a few changes after the disappointment of Saturday.
One player who will unfortunately miss out on his usual rotation is young center back Andreas Christensen, who’s out with a hamstring injury. Álvaro Morata is expected to be available again following a knee problem, though he’s unlikely to start — if Sarri does go with a proper center forward from the start, it’s bound to be Olivier Giroud.
Chelsea could be down to fifth by kick-off depending on how Arsenal fare at Brighton in the afternoon match. The pressure’s on!
Previously: Chelsea’s only Premier League victory at Vicarage Road in the last ten years was the 2-1 during Conte’s title-winning season (Watford had been in the second division until 2015) thanks to a Costa and Batshuayi late show. I do miss the wild Conte celebrations.