Watford take hard-earned point from flailing champions

chelsea watford

Watford 0-0 Chelsea – www.bbc.co.uk

Chelsea remain just 13th in the Premier League table, four points and four places below Wednesday’s opponents Watford, who they drew with 0-0 at Vicarage Road. The hosts looked the more threatening in the first half, but Chelsea improved when Eden Hazard came on in the latter stages. A combination of good defending from the Hornets and saves from Heurelho Gomes denied the visitors all three points, in an even game in which a draw was a fair reflection on the balance of play.

Chelsea frequently tried to switch play early on and take advantage of Watford’s narrow system. They rarely broke into dangerous areas, however, as Watford centre-backs Craig Cathcart and Sebastian Prodl got the better of Diego Costa early on.

Prodl has impressed in his first seven months at Vicarage Road and was one of many home players who posed a threat from set pieces, the Austrian’s header saved after Ben Watson’s corner. Watford’s strongest spell of pressure came midway through the first half, as Odion Ighalo headed goalwards from Jose Holebas’ good delivery, but his close-range effort lacked conviction. Ighalo was the host’s main livewire in the first half and only a few good blocks and saves stopped him opening the scoring.

jurado

Jurado – www.zimbio.com

Watford have the best points return for a newly promoted side at this stage since Birmingham in 2009-10 and it was easy to see why. Jurado worked his magic showing skill and creativity, the ball looked like it was glued to his feet at times, such was his close control. The Spaniard’s growing influence did not reflect so kindly on the performances of Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel, however. Gus Hiddink arguably opted for a double pivot to deny Watford space in advanced areas, but the duo could not stop Jurado picking up the ball in pockets of space in front of the defence.

The visitors survived the Watford onslaught, however, thanks partly to good work from John Terry, a man at the centre of national debate, as well as Chelsea’s defence. Diego Costa showed pace to get onto Oscar’s pass, he firmly held onto the ball with his back to goal before swerving, but his shot was deflected behind by the impressive Cathcart.

The visitors still lacked intensity in their play and needed more width on the left hand side. Cesar Azpilicueta had more touches of the ball than any player on the pitch but not once did he burst forward. Both ‘Dave’ and Oscar are naturally right-footed players, so neither of them had the confidence to attack the left flank with much gusto. Had they done that, the rewards could have been greater, with Juan Carlos Paredes looking shaky at right-back for Watford.

dave

Cesar Azpilicueta

Paredes was to be the subject of controversy shortly before half-time, when he fell to the floor after an alleged swipe from Costa. The Chelsea striker became a pantomime villain for Watford fans to target, though replays show the Spaniard did not touch the right-back in the incident.

Watford had exerted a lot of energy in the first half. A combination of tiredness and perhaps settling for a point, meant their players did not charge about with as much fuel in the second half and dropped deeper. Jurado’s influence waned, the 29-year-old taken off with Almen Abdi taking his place, as both sides looked wasteful in possession and created little.

On 70 minutes, Oscar cut in from the left and drew a fine diving save from Gomes with a shot from 25-yards out. Despite that encouraging effort, Chelsea still needed a bit more guile in the final third. Matic was brought off after a poor game with Eden Hazard coming on, the Belgian’s introduction having been widely called for. Hazard made a huge impact with his direct forward runs and was key to Chelsea’s best attacking play in the latter stages.

Three minutes after he came on, the former Lille man showed trickery to tee up Branislav Ivanovic, who drilled towards goal from close range, but the keeper tipped the ball wide. A few minutes later, a quick breakaway saw Hazard close in on goal, but his first touch was too strong and the stoic-looking Gomes was able to gather.

gomes

Heurelho Gomes – www.skysports.com

Had these phases of play happened with 30 minutes to go, rather than 10, one suspects that Chelsea’s momentum would have guided them to a winner. Watford were clinging on by the skin of their teeth – or Heurelho Gomes and his multi-coloured teeth. The former Spurs goalie made one final intervention to deny Diego Costa, whose powerful back-post header might have won the game, had a sub-standard stopper stood between the sticks.

The draw means Chelsea are still unbeaten under Hiddink, but that statistic should not fool anyone that all issues at Stamford Bridge are now resolved. They have drawn five of their eight league games with the Dutchman at the helm and Saturday’s 5-1 FA Cup win was largely down to poor defending from Championship side MK Dons. Talk of a top four surge is unrealistic, the Blues’ record since Mourinho’s departure equates to 1.75 points per game, less than what Arsenal and Tottenham have been picking up all season.

Watching that game, one would never have guessed that Chelsea were the Premier League champions and Watford were a newly-promoted side, so the Hornets can take some heart from their point. They are into the top half and only need two more wins to diminish any internal relegation fears.

flores

Quique Sanchez Flores – www.express.co.uk

Quique Flores’ strategy has been to maintain a consistent starting eleven and operate with a simplistic, narrow system. Over time, there is a danger that more teams will work that system out. Watford have conceded 16 goals in the final half hour of matches – only Norwich have shipped more in that time. It seems the best way to play against the Hornets is to stay disciplined for long spells, and then make brave substitutions that allow you to attack with pace and width late on. Watford tend to be very aggressive in the first half of games, but rarely sustain their intensity for 90 minutes. When these weakness become more openly exposed, it will be important for Flores to adapt his principles. Based on their current results, however, Watford can cross that bridge when they come to it.