Crisis, Pressure, Crisis, Sacking
Monday 5th February, Vicarage Road – It was chilly weather in Watford for Monday night’s EPL game: Watford v Chelsea. Back when these two clubs last met (October 2017), Chelsea’s manager was under a cloud from consecutive losses to Manchester City and Crystal Palace. Marco Silva’s Watford were flying, with three wins and a draw from their five games before their visit to the Bridge.
Three months later and things had changed – for Watford that is. Marco Silva was fired in January, after his team had picked up just five points from ten league games. For Chelsea and Antonio Conte though, the situation was pretty much the same. Or maybe slightly worse.
Watford weren’t hugely improved under their new manager Javier Gracia, but they’d only conceded one goal in the two games since he was appointed.
Chelsea, for their part were fading steadily under Conte – they had played nine games in January to Watford’s six, and a lot of their first eleven were either fatigued, injured or just returned from injury.
The champions were also developing the uncomfortable habit of being comfortably defeated by teams they’d easily dealt with in the past, the most recent episode being a 3 – 0 (!) home loss to AFC Bournemouth. All the papers were calling time on Antonio Conte’s Chelsea career, and if his team lost at Watford tonight, they might well be correct.
Barcelona loanee Gerard Deulofeu started tonight’s game for Watford, but Chelsea’s new signings Olivier Giroud and Emerson Palmieri were on the bench.
Despite his team’s lack of penetration in the absence of a true striker, Conte started Eden Hazard up top for the second consecutive game. Andreas Christensen was injured, so David Luiz returned to the center of the back three.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Karnezis 7, Janmaat 8.5, Mariappa 7, Prodl 7, Cholevas 7, Zeegelaar 7.5, Doucoure 8, Capoue 8, Deulofeu 9 (Carrillo NR), Richarlison 7 (Pereyra 8), Deeney 7.5 (Gray NR)
Subs Bachmann, Ndong, Pereyra, Lukebakio, Gray, Carrillo, Mukena
Courtois 4, Zappacosta 5, Cahill 5.5, Luiz 5, Azpilicueta 5.5, Moses 6.5, Kante 6, Bakayoko 2, Pedro 5.5 (Giroud 6), Willian 6 (Fabregas 6), Hazard 7.5
Subs Caballero, Emerson, Rudiger, Fabregas, Drinkwater, Hudson-Odoi, Giroud
Just like the Bournemouth game Watford pressed Chelsea hard, not back in their area but as soon as possession moved up to midfield. They showed much more vigour and desire, and made Chelsea look second best straight from the kick-off.
Tiemoue Bakayoko was especially poor for the visitors, repeatedly giving away possession in dangerous areas and growing reckless in recovery to compensate. Deulofeu and Richarlison both had early scoring chances from his turnovers, but Deulofeu’s shot went into the side netting, and Gary Cahill slid in to block Richarlison’s.
Bakayoko eventually got sent off just half an hour into the game. He got a second booking for clattering into Richarlison, just as Conte was readying Fabregas to replace him. Strangely, the team played better without him, at least for a few minutes. It would be fair to say this was Bakayoko’s worst ever game in a Chelsea shirt.
He’s Only On Loan But…
Neither team looked particularly dangerous in front of goal until the red card. Afterwards though, Deulofeu came into his own. First Daryl Janmaat put him in on goal with a through pass down the right wing. Deulofeu’s raw pace took him past Gary Cahill, but he was too far wide to be a direct threat.
Nevertheless Thibaut Courtois opted to leave his goal open and try and beat the young winger to the ball. Deulofeu went over Courtois and the referee correctly awarded a penalty. Troy Deeney smashed the ball past Courtois for 1 – 0. It was just three minutes from half time, but Chelsea were already a man down and a goal down to Watford FC.
Working Their Socks Off
In the second half, Watford sat back to defend their narrow lead, and Chelsea worked their socks off trying to get back into the game. Pedro picked up a knock and was replaced by Olivier Giroud on 64 minutes. Giroud added a little more penetration for his team, but it wasn’t enough under the circumstances.
With ten minutes of normal time left to play, Eden Hazard found Fabregas with a cut back from the right wing, but the midfielder’s finish was weak and Karnezis held the ball.
Just a couple of minutes later though, Hazard made the breakthrough. David Luiz had moved up from defence into an advanced midfield position, and he played the ball up to Hazard, who rolled his defender, dribbled back across him, and struck a curling shot from 25 yards. Karnezis stretched but couldn’t quite get to it… 1 – 1.
Lost Their Heads
Both teams came forward searching for a winner. It was end-to-end football, which wasn’t ideal for Chelsea with their numerical disadvantage. They had just eight minutes left to at least keep the scores even, but their defenders might as well not have been on the pitch. Watford scored three more goals in just seven minutes of play.
Etienne Capoue caught the opposition defence on the counter, but Deulofeu shot the ball just wide.
Daryl Janmaat dribbled inwards from the right wing, relatively untroubled by N’golo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta, exchanged passes with Roberto Pereyra in the box, then ambled past Cahill and dinked right of Courtois for 2 – 1.
Two On Two
Adrian Mariappa made a great tackle to steal the ball off Hazard on the edge of his area, and Abdoulaye Doucoure started another counter-attack with a quick pass to Deulofeu. It was a two on two break, Deulofeu and Deeney tracked by Cahill and Luiz. Deeney ran across Luiz to create space, and Deulofeu cut in from the left across Cahill, and finished into the bottom corner for 3 – 1.
At this point Chelsea weren’t even trying anymore, and Watford found it easy to score another goal. Just as with the previous goal, Andre Carrillo hooked the ball off Giroud to Capoue, who passed to Doucoure. The French midfielder moved possession quickly up the pitch, then found Pereyra, whose diagonal run had split Chelsea’s defence. Pereyra dummied Azpilicueta, then whipped the ball back across Courtois and into the opposite corner for 4 – 1.
Not Long Now
After the game Antonio Conte spoke about his side’s “confused” defending. He also correctly admitted to making the wrong personnel choices for this game.
It’s barely been a season since “Don Antonio” took the Premier League by storm, but sadly, it’s possible this game was one of his last as the manager at Chelsea FC.
Final Score Watford 4 – 1 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Metro
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