Chelsea unable to find combinations between lines
In the opening stages of the game, Watford’s midfielders applied consistent pressure on Chelsea’s midfielders, while their front three and wing-backs matched Chelsea’s back three and wing-back as well. In an all too familiar refrain, Chelsea had trouble dealing with this and found very few ways of progressing from their own half.
Watford keeping close lines in midfield and defence also contributed towards their control of the game, both in pressing and in recovering to support the press. As a consequence, many of Chelsea’s passes into the front three resulted in errors or turnovers, either by not timing combinations correctly, or by Watford blocking and intercepting passes.
Chelsea did find a few routes for progressing with the ball, including David Luiz stepping into midfield and passing to the front line and Hazard’s individual dribbling past the likes of Prodl before finding and advancing wing-back.
David Luiz’s hard and low long passes from midfield to the frontline took advantage of instances when Watford’s backline dropped deep and opened more space between the lines, allowing him to carry forward and make these passes out of pressure. From finding the pass forward, Chelsea could move the ball to Moses on the wing, which would lead to the chance for Willian inside the box.
Hazard receiving the ball between lines was met with aggressive challenges a number of fouls. When he turned past pressure and faced play with the ball, his passes up the wings for the wing-backs did create some quick attacks and crosses into the box, but the only real option for those was to play the ball wing-back to wing-back.
Bakayoko red card
Watford put Chelsea’s central midfielders under a lot of pressure when receiving with back to play, forcing them to find individual ways of breaking pressure to find a spare man with the ball, or risk making passes back to the back three without a clear picture of how close Watford’s front three were to them. Bakayoko suffered in this regard, giving away a dangerous opportunity with his pass back that Deulofeu intercepted, and losing control of the ball when attempting to turn past pressure from behind—ultimately leading to him being set off.
Upon going down to ten men, the initial change appeared to be Fabregas for Moses, before Conte decided to take Willian off instead. The former would have resulted in a switch to a 441, which would’ve maintained numbers in midfield. The latter saw Chelsea maintain the back five instead, and required Pedro, Fabregas, and Kante to shift side-to-side ahead of the backline during defending.
Watford were thus able to keep the ball at the back and move forward with the ball on the wings and create opportunities. Richarlison had already been finding space on the outside of Azpilicueta to attack during counters, but now he could combine inside and shoot from the middle, where Chelsea were more stretched.
Watford enjoyed similar success on the right flank, where they won their penalty to take the lead at halftime. Switching to the sides required Chelsea’s midfielders to cover a lot of space, leaving the likes of Janmaat with more time to hold the ball and look for a passes behind the defence. Here he found Deulofeu making a double move (first towards the ball, then behind the defender) to win the penalty.
Although Chelsea weren’t able to press high consistently with 10 men, they were able to pressure and intercept forward passes made into midfield through Kante, and were able to create a chance for Pedro at the end of the half through a counter from midfield.
Giroud on for Pedro
Watford didn’t apply as much pressure with their midfielders in the second half, electing to wait for the right moments to press, and sitting deeper in order to control their own third of the pitch. Chelsea opened up much more with the ball, with both Kante and Fabregas moving high in the final third, and Azpilicueta wide and in support of Moses. In doing so, Watford always had good opportunities to counter when they won the ball, with a lot of space ahead of Chelsea’s backline in midfield and forcing Chelsea’s defenders to take risks to press or intercept the ball high—leading to some mistakes when trying to maintain a high field position.
Chelsea’s biggest tactical problem both in the first and second half was in the lack of a second option as an outlet when playing from goal kicks or trying to break from deep. Hazard could make wide runs during the latter, but Chelsea didn’t have any options to whom they could’ve played long consistently. Without a long option from goal kicks in the second half, Chelsea also gave the ball away in dangerous positions, leading to Watford shooting opportunities.
Finally, the change was made to bring on Giroud for Pedro. The change saw Moses move up to play more as a winger on the right, and gave Hazard more freedom to move inside from the left or play off Giroud. In the final third, Azpilicueta began to move higher on the right in support of Moses (both underlap and overlap), while Fabregas could move over to the side to join them and Hazard’s freedom allowed him to provide additional support to create chances—with Giroud in the box as a target.
Instantly Chelsea had a long ball option. Giroud was able to compete with Watford’s defenders physically, and could be an option on crosses and long balls into the box. Giroud being able to push Watford’s defenders back created more space between the lines for Chelsea to compete for second balls and for Hazard to make use of.
Hazard managed to draw the game level with his long shot, but Chelsea were unable to prevent Watford from dangerous counters and attacks whenever they had the ball and playing most of the game with ten men required more energy to make up for the disadvantage. Chelsea had been taking risks all second half in that regard, and as they pushed for a winner, the front three (Hazard, Giroud, Moses) were slow to drop back to support the back four and two central midfielders, leaving space for Janmaat to move inside from wide, before combining and moving into the box to score the winner.
Another bad start for Chelsea, similar to the Bournemouth game, with the Blues unable to find passes between lines to open the opponent’s defensive block, and not having the options inside the box to score from crosses. Chelsea improved in the second half and managed to score the equaliser, but Watford made their extra man and extra energy count in the final minutes to create and finish multiple chances.