Chelsea rejoined the Premier League’s top four on Saturday evening, claiming a comfortable 3-0 win over relegation-threatened Watford.
The Blues dominated the opening stages, and they took the lead just after the cooling break, when Ross Barkley slipped a sneaky ball through to Olivier Giroud, who produced a perfect finish into Ben Foster’s far-left corner.
And Frank Lampard’s men doubled their advantage just before half-time, when Willian calmly slotted home from the penalty spot, after Christian Pulisic had been fouled in the box. Chelsea continued to control proceedings in the second half, limiting Watford to speculative efforts from distance, rarely troubling Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Ross Barkley added a third in injury time, rifling home from eight yards out to hand Chelsea the three points, and send the Blues back into the Champions League qualification places.
Key Talking Point
It’s no secret that Chelsea have struggled massively from set-pieces this season – boasting the second worst record at defending corners in the whole of Europe. So, all eyes were on Frank Lampard’s backline selections, as he attempted to combat this serious frailty.
Facing a strong, tall, physical team like Watford was a real baptism of fire for this new-look defence. But when they so easily could have sunk, the youthful rearguard swam. The first goal was always going to be vital in this game, and until taking the lead, Chelsea defended manfully, repelling every high ball, cross, corner and free-kick that came their way.
Zouma and Christensen nullified the physical presence of Ismaila Sarr and Troy Deeney in attack, reducing the duo to committing a series of fouls, before the latter was quickly subbed in the second half. Height and strength did the trick.
Starting XI: Kepa (7); James (7), Christensen (8), Zouma (8), Azpilicueta (8); Kante (7), Mount (8), Barkley (8); Willian (7), Pulisic (9), Giroud (8).
Substitutes: Abraham (6), Loftus-Cheek (6), Hudson-Odoi (6), Gilmour (6).
Can you remember when there were rumours swirling that Pulisic was unhappy at Chelsea and wasn’t good enough? No, me neither. The winger eventually found his feet in the Premier League, and from that moment on, he hasn’t looked back. And once again, he was the difference-maker against Watford on Saturday.
Pulisic buzzed around the Hornets’ final third, nipping in between defenders and allowing the opposing backline no time to rest on their laurels. And he was equally devastating on the ball, too. The American was neat and tidy in possession, stretching the Watford defence when given the chance, and it was his quick feet which earned Chelsea the decisive penalty. Once he gets going, there’s simply no stopping him.
The Blues have got some serious talent arriving in the summer, but Pulisic is becoming undroppable.
Key Talking Point
Watford just haven’t got going since football returned. The Hornets had picked up one point from three matches before their trip to Stamford Bridge, and with time running out to pull clear of the drop, we were keen to see how Nigel Pearson’s men would respond.
The Premier League strugglers were well in the game until the first drinks break, competing fiercely with the Blues all over the pitch. But Pearson’s men fell behind to a nicely-worked Giroud strike just before the half-hour mark, and it was all up hill from then on. In fact, Watford crumbled and posed very little threat to the hosts, in another worryingly limp display. Pearson may not have expected to get a result from this particular match, but time is running out at the bottom end of the table.
Starting XI: Foster (8); Femenia (5), Mariappa (5), Dawson (6), Kabasele (5); Hughes (6), Doucoure (5), Capoue (5), Chalobah (5), Sarr (5); Deeney (6).
Substitutes: Welbeck (5), Masina (5), Cleverley (5), Pereyra (N/A).
How many goals would this Watford team have conceded without Foster protecting their goal? The 37-year-old is still one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, and he showed his skills time and time again on Saturday evening. The Hornets were completely overrun by a superb Chelsea side, and once they fell behind, the floodgates opened.
Watford sat deeper and deeper, drawing pressure on themselves, and fortunately Foster was in typically brilliant form to deny the Blues an even greater lead. The ex-Man Utd star kept out several efforts from Giroud and Willian, pulling off a string of fine saves along the way. Ultimately, he couldn’t prevent his side from slipping to another defeat, but with Foster in the way, Watford always stand a chance in this relegation battle.
Chelsea’s quest for Champions League qualification faces another tough test, when the Blues travel to Crystal Palace on Tuesday evening.
Watford continue their relegation scrap with a home tie against bottom of the table Norwich City on Tuesday, as Pearson aims to help drag the Hornets away from the drop zone.