Chelsea ended their first match since being named champions with a dramatic 4-3 win over 16th placed Watford – but what did we learn from the game?
Watford’s early pressing
Watford began with more tactical bravery than one might have expected from a team starting four natural sitting midfielders and only one forward. Tom Cleverley pressed Kurt Zouma on the left, followed up by Daryl Janmaat on Cesar Azpilicueta while Etienne Capoue was also allowed to push up. Valon Behrami and Abdoulaye Doucoure sat deeper and were happy to retain possession at a leisured pace, with Chelsea slow to press in the early stages.
Mad minute for Terry
After a muted start, Chelsea began to look more like their usual selves and John Terry scored in his penultimate game at the Bridge. He netted hooking home off the post after Watford failed to clear a 22nd minute corner from the right. Celebrations were sobered moments later when, after a mix-up with Nathaniel Chalobah, the veteran headed the ball into the path of Capoue who fired in with his first touch. Within two minutes, we saw both a glimpse of why Terry has scored in 17 consecutive seasons and, perhaps, a glimpse of why the time is right for him to leave.
Final third difficulties
That moment of opportunism from Capoue represented Watford’s only chance of the first half. Though well-structured, Watford missed a focal point that allowed them to get early balls into dangerous areas and create chances. Mbaye Niang often drifted wide and bar Capoue, Watford’s midfield quartet were not naturally used to arriving into the goalscoring positions he vacated.
Chelsea grew in strength
N’Golo Kante and Chalobah gained a stronger grip of the midfield in the latter stages of the first half. Willian saw his shot blocked by Sebastian Prodl the first half, as Eden Hazard came to the fore. Picked out twice by two good passes from Kante and then Willian, the Belgian nearly won a penalty off Heurelho Gomes, then dragged his shot wide after cutting inside. Kenedy got in behind Nordin Amrabat for the first time and his shot was turned behind at the near-post on 36 minutes, leading to a corner that caused the opening goal.
Set piece woes
Watford have conceded more goals from set pieces than anyone else in the Premier League and those frailties were much in evidence at Stamford Bridge. Their problem throughout was not so much dealing with initial deliveries, but instead staying focused until the danger was entirely averted. The whole unit were too slow to push out and clear, instead inviting their opponents to cross or shoot. Azpilicueta did the latter, his low strike putting Chelsea back in front.
By far Chelsea’s most consistent player all evening, the lively Willian instigated a strong start to the second half, forcing a good save from Gomes after cutting in from the left. Following another corner, Kenedy crossed and Nathan Ake touched the ball across goal for Michy Batshuayi to tap home.
Ake and Zouma’s errors
Terry was at fault for Watford’s first goal, but he was not solely responsible for a poor defensive display from Chelsea. As Daryl Janmaat cut inside from the left Zouma, not for the first time, timed his challenge too quickly, then Ake naively showed him onto his favoured right-foot and the Dutchman curled home.
Watford’s two goals had come through two moments of individualism and while they looked composed, it wasn’t until Stefano Okaka came on that they posed a regular threat. The Italian, who played international football under Antonio Conte, stayed in goalscoring positions and was rewarded on 74 minutes. Okaka slammed home after an excellent cross from Cleverley as Watford had a period of pressure, Behrami firing wide from range shortly after.
Once Cesc Fabregas replaced Chalobah, the game swung back in Chelsea’s favour. The Spaniard gave them the control to get further up the pitch, his free-kick tipped over before fellow substitute Ola Aina had a long-range shot saved. Fabregas got the winner though and after Kante battled for the ball, Willian laid off the midfielder, who placed his shot inside the near-post from just outside the box. There was time for unwanted drama as Prodl was sent off but the night belonged to the hosts.
For both Chelsea and Watford, Monday’s match was heartening and simultaneously, a lesson for future improvement. Watford must be far more focused at set pieces if they wish to progress next season, which could see them change head coach again should many fans get their wish. Chelsea’s questionable defending suggests more depth is required to compete on multiple fronts next term, but for now this title must be savoured.