By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryhorblueblood)
Vicarage Road/February 5, 2018
Antonio Conte will surely be looking for a quick turnaround from his players after what was absolutely dismal performance against a lowly Bournemouth side on Wednesday night. Against a Watford side that has a new man in charge, the task of going straight back to winning ways couldn’t be tougher and when you factor in the fact that this match will be new coach Javi Gracia’s home debut then you’ll know the Blues will be facing a highly motivated Watford team on Monday Night Football at Vicarage Road.
The first time this fixture took place was way back in 1970 in a FA Cup match which Chelsea won comfortably by five goals to Watford’s one. Chelsea has racked up a further sixteen wins against Watford in the thirty-one matches to follow that first match. Chelsea go into Monday night’s match with a record of (W17 D6 L9) in the thirty-two matches against Watford going into Monday’s game. Watford has won just one of their nine Premier League matches against Chelsea (L6 D2). This match has only failed to produce a goal on just one occasion in a 0-0 draw during the silly 2015/2016 season. To put that in context, there has been a total of 49 goals in the last 14 matches between Chelsea and Watford at an average of 3.5 goals per game. Chelsea has barely escaped with all three points in the last three encounters with Watford having scored the winning goals in the 87th minute or later on all three occasions so we may have to dig in again to come away with all three points on Monday.
Antonio Conte said in his pre-match conference that Alvaro Morata remains out and that this game will come too soon for new arrival Emerson Palmieri who has only made one appearance for AS Roma this season prior to his move to Stamford Bridge against Torino in Coppa Italia. Andreas Christensen will also miss this game due to the hamstring he picked up in the first half of the defeat to AFC Bournemouth on Wednesday. Having only just returned from injury himself Olivier Giroud is not ready to start a game just yet according to Conte but he should be on the coach to Vicarage Road and should be involved at some point in the game. With Morata out and Giroud likely to begin from the bench Eden Hazard may again be the one to lead the line against Watford except Antonio Conte rethinks his tactics for the match. Both David Luiz and Willian are both on the road to a return to the first team which will be welcomed news for the Conte. Having both being unused subs on Wednesday Victor Moses and Danny Drinkwater should return to the starting lineup presumably in place of both Davide Zappacosta and Tiemoue Bakayoko. With Emerson Palmieri not ready to play yet, Marcos Alonso will have to do it all on his own until the Italian is ready to play and lend a hand. Except David Luiz is fit to start this game, I expect Antonio Conte to move away from his favoured three at the back formation for this one game because playing Gary Cahill as the central figure of the back three is not ideal with his lack of pace as the result on Wednesday clearly showed. So we may be seeing Chelsea lineup with a back four for the first time since our match at the Emirates Stadium in September 2016 unless David Luiz is available for the trip to the Vicarage Road. On Wednesday night Eden Hazard received very little support from his supporting cast which left him coming deep to get the ball hence his inability to impact the game as much as he usually does but with Willian and Fabregas likely to start this match he may get the support he needs to excel. Ross Barkley is a wonderful acquisition for us but he’s not up to full fitness just yet which is why he hasn’t impressed that much when he’s been involved and Pedro is having a season to forget in my opinion so both should make way for Willian and Fabregas on Monday except the Brazilian is not passed fit. Personally I think Thibaut Courtois shouldn’t have been rushed back against Bournemouth, with Willy Caballero in some form in his absence, and he had a forgettable game on Wednesday night. On his day he could have easily saved Junior Stanislas’ goal but it wasn’t to be on Wednesday but I still expect him to be back between the posts on Monday night.
Caballero; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Drinkwater, Alonso; Willian, Hazard, Fabregas.
Last Five Matches: LWLDD
Injuries: David Luiz (Ankle) –Doubt; Willian (Hamstring) – Doubt; Andreas Christensen (Hamstring) – Out; Alvaro Morata (Back) – Out; Emerson Palmieri (Fitness) – Out.
Javi Gracia has only overseen just two games for Watford, from which he recorded a loss and a draw against Southampton in the FA Cup and Stoke City in the Premier League last time out, so he’s not likely to make too many changes to his team. Orestis Karzenis has stepped in for the injured Huerelho Gomes in both games under Javi Gracia. The Spaniard fancies an attacking 4-3-3 formation with the quartet of Daryl Janmaat, Adrian Mariappa, Christian Kabasele, Jose Holebas lining up at the back against Southampton in Gracia’s first match in charge with Austrian Sebastian Prodl coming into the back four for the game against Stoke City in their last match in place of Janmaat and that’s likely to be the four to face Chelsea on Monday unless Javi Gracia decides to change his strategy for this match which is highly unlikely given the length of time he’s been in the job. Both Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure has started in midfield in both games under Javi Gracia with Ben Watson joining them for the FA Cup game against Southampton and Tom Cleverly playing the last game against Stoke City. Richarlison is the only constant in the attacking third for Gracia’s two matches with both Andre Gray and Andre Carillo pairing him in attack in the FA Cup while for the Stoke City game it was the trio of Richarlison, Gerard Deulofeu and Troy Deeney playing in attack.
Karzenis; Janmaat, Kabasele, Prodl, Holebas; Capoue, Doucoure, Cleverly; Richarlison, Gray, Deulofeu.
Last 5 matches: DLLDW
Injuries: Molla Wague (Hamstring) – Out; Kiko Fermenia (Hamstring) – Out; Will Hughes (Hamstring) – Out; Miguel Britos (Bruised Foot) – Out; Younes Kaboul (Fractured Metatarsal) – Doubt; Nathaniel Chalobah (Knee) – Out; Craig Cathcart (Knee) – Out; Tim Hoban (ACL) – Out.
N’Golo Kante vs. Abdoulaye Doucoure
Abdoulaye Doucoure is certainly having the best season of his footballing career as the French midfielder has taken the Premier League by storm since his arrival from the French Ligue 1 last summer and thus N’Golo Kante will have his hands full containing Doucoure on Monday night.
Eden Hazard vs. Christian Kabasele
Eden Hazard’s efforts was overshadowed by the final result against Bournemouth on Wednesday night and he will be hoping for a better outing against Watford on Monday night but in his compatriot he will have a stubborn and inspired opposition and I expect another tough outing for our Belgian maestro.
Victor Moses vs. Richarlison
Victor Moses will know how tough a customer Richarlison is from their duel in the reverse fixture back at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. Richarlison isn’t the same as the beginning of the season but that’s not to say Victor Moses will have it all his own way come Monday night.
Antonio Conte and his players know exactly what is needed when they take to the pitch at Vicarage Road tomorrow night with all of our top four rivals having concluded their matches. With both Liverpool and Spurs playing out a draw at Anfield on Sunday evening, a win against Watford will take the Blues back to third spot on the table three points behind second-placed United. We’re approaching the business end of the season and every point will count so I expect Antonio Conte to set his team up to go for broke as anything short of victory on Monday night will increase the pressure on both the gaffer and his players. This is the sort of game that we should win by a considerable margin but after watching the team perform so woefully in Wednesday night’s loss to Bournemouth I’m not so sure anymore but we should still come away with the points to put pressure on both coach and players. The fact that we’ll have our first free midweek for ages we might be putting a lot of energy into winning this match than we usually do with a lot of turnaround time before our next assignment against Hull City. Keep The Blue Flag Flying High!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Sky Sports
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