Crisis, Pressure, Crisis, Sacking
Saturday 21st October, Stamford Bridge – After a difficult, topsy-turvy Champions League game against Roma midweek, Chelsea hosted this season’s surprise top-four contender, Watford FC at the Bridge. At the start of play Watford were 4th in the league table after eight games played. Their hosts were two points behind them in 5th, but a whole nine points behind league leaders Manchester City.
Chelsea had conceded three goals and scored just one on the way to losing their last two premier league games. They’d started the season picking up red cards almost every other game, and now they were picking up injuries to key players almost every game. All the stories in the media were about the EPL title holders being in crisis with their manager under pressure, questions about his training methods, in serious danger of losing his job just months after a record-breaking league win.
N’golo Kante, Victor Moses and Danny Drinkwater remained out injured for Chelsea. Tiemoue Bakayoko and David Luiz were carrying minor injuries against Roma, but were passed fit for today’s game. For their part, Watford had five players out through injury: Nathaniel Chalobah and Tommie Hoban had both undergone knee surgery, and Isaac Success, Craig Cathcart and Younes Kaboul were also absent with knee and thigh injuries.
Watford manager Marco Silva made only one change to the line-up for the previous week’s home win against Arsenal: Troy Deeney, who had scored the equalizer in that game, started today ahead of Andre Gray. Stefano Okaka and Camilo Zuniga were both unavailable for the visitors through suspension.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Courtois 6, Alonso 5 (Willian 7), Rudiger 7, Luiz 7, Cahill 5.5, Azpilicueta 7.5, Fabregas 6.5, Bakayoko 4.5, Hazard 7, Pedro 8, Morata 5.5 (Batshuayi 8.5)
Subs Caballero, Christensen, Zappacosta, Ampadu, Musonda, Willian, Batshuayi
Gomes 6, Femenia 5.5, Kabasele 6.5, Britos 5.5, Mariappa 5.5, Cholevas 5.5, Doucoure 6.5, Cleverley 6, Pereyra 7.5 (Carrillo 5.5), Richarlison 7.5, Deeney 6 (Watson 5.5)
Subs Karnezis, Wague, Janmaat, Capoue, Watson, Carrillo, Gray,
Watford had been commended in the media for their bravery against Arsenal, but they started this game tentatively, standing off Chelsea and applying very little pressure in the opposition half. Perhaps this was the wrong choice – Chelsea had struggled when Crystal Palace and Manchester city had worked hard to harry them out of possession. They would need an early lead to boost their confidence and get the crowd going today, and with Watford refusing to pressure their shaky defence, they got one.
The goal came from a corner just twelve minutes in. There was some controversy about whether the corner should have been given – Hazard had dribbled to the by-line under pressure from Britos, but the ball came off his own heel before going out. Ref Jon Moss thought the Watford player had made the final touch and gave a corner to Chelsea.
Hazard took it short, before setting up Pedro just outside it’s the penalty box. Pedro hit it first time from range, delivering a peach of a shot that curled all the way across the goal, struck the opposite post and went in – 1 – 0 to Chelsea.
Chelsea were able to maintain that score most of the first half, but by the forty-minute mark some of their players were showing visible signs of fatigue. Watford were starting to push up and create more chances, and Chelsea were trying to manage the game until the break. They made it to the very last minute of first-half injury time, when Marcos Alonso put the ball out for a throw-in right next to the corner flag.
Jose Cholevas wound up and put a long throw into the box. The ball ricocheted off Luiz then Bakayoko, before falling to Abdoulaye Doucoure just a few yards out. The young Frenchman took his shot and it went in at the near post for the equalizer. It should have been an easy save but with all the bodies in the box, Courtois saw it late and could not get to the ball on time.
Both managers must have told their players to try for an early goal, because it was frantic, end-to-end football from kick-off for the second half. Chelsea were far less prepared for it though, and except for some wayward finishing by Richarlison, they should have been three goals down in the first five minutes.
First Femenia put a cross through to Troy Deeney in the box, but Luiz made a last-minute clearance to prevent the goal. A couple of minutes later, Femenia and Pereyra exchanged passes on the right wing to lose both Alonso and Cahill, then Femenia put a brilliant low cross behind the defensive line for Richarlison at the far post. The cross took both Courtois and Azpilicueta out of the equation, and Richarlison only needed to finish into an empty net… somehow he put it wide and Chelsea were spared.
A minute more though and they had the lead: Pereyra stole possession off Bakayoko and passed to Troy Deeney, who moved it on to Richarlison on the left. Gary Cahill was dragged out of position, leaving Pereyra unmarked at the penalty spot. Bakayoko could not get back fast enough to cover him, and Richarlison made an easy assist for Pereyra to finish – 1 – 2.
Perhaps they were tired, but Morata, Alonso and Bakayoko were all struggling by this point. Bakayoko in particular was really poor; it was difficult to keep track of how many times the Watford players had taken the ball off him, or he’d made a bad pass to give possession away. Eventually, Conte replaced Morata with Michy Batshuayi and Alonso with Willian. Both subs had not played too well themselves recently, but they had an instant positive effect on this game.
Michy Batshuayi has been a little bit of an enigma since he arrived at Chelsea. He’s young and has all the tools to be a top striker, but so far most times they’ve started him, he’s made all the wrong choices and been almost completely ineffective.
When he’s brought on as a sub though, he’s sometimes… completely unplayable. It’s not just that he’s better against tired defenders, he actually plays better all round – his movement is much better and his finishing is lethal. Maybe it’s a language issue, so when he comes on as a sub he’s had time to figure out for himself what the game needs? Either way, Chelsea definitely got Good Michy today.
Michy was subbed on in the 61st minute, and ten minutes later he had equalized for Chelsea. Cholevas fouled Pedro on the right wing, and Willian took the free kick. He and Pedro passed back and forth between themselves, before Pedro found space to make a long cross into the box. Batshuayi flew in from behind Britos to get to the cross, and glanced a header across the keeper into the far corner: 2 – 2.
An Incredible Comeback
Chelsea weren’t finished – three minutes before the end of normal time, they scored again. By this time Watford were pegged back in their own half trying to hold out for a draw. Zappacosta, who had come on for Pedro, passed to Willian on the right wing, and the Brazilian made another long cross into the box. This time the cross evaded Michy, but Azpilicueta, who was at left back now, headed it in to take the lead. It was an incredible comeback. Shortly afterwards Willian had a chance to score himself, but he chose to cross to the far post and the ball was too high for Rudiger to get to it.
Good Michy Definitely In The House
In injury time Watford tried to get forward and find another equalizer, but Chelsea were in control now and took possession back, nothing doing. In the final minute of play, Willian took the ball central and tried to thread a through ball into the box for Hazard.
Miguel Britos intercepted for Watford and attempted to clear it out, but the ball hit Bakayoko and bounced back into the box for Michy. Kabasele tried his best to get the ball off him but Michy showed good strength to hold him off, then chipped the ball past Heurelho Gomes for his second goal.
It was the last play of the game… Chelsea leapfrogged Watford to 4th in the EPL table. And as the referee called time on another Stamford Bridge roller coaster, the stadium resounded with the home crowd singing Antonio Conte’s name.
Final Score Chelsea 4 – 2 Watford
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Metro
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