A double from Eden Hazard was enough to secure all three points on Boxing Day for Chelsea after an open and quick paced match at Vicarage Road.
Home side Watford lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. This meant more space was available in the middle of the pitch than had been afforded by Leicester in Saturday’s defeat. This was by no means one-way traffic though. Watford gave as good as they got for most of the match.
Maurizio Sarri chose not to make any changes to the team that had lost at home to Leicester. That meant it was a Willian, Hazard, Pedro front three. It was after a one two between Pedro and Willian on the edge of the area that the first chance was created as Pedro bent a shot first time from the edge of the ‘D’ just wide of the post after receiving the return pass from Willian.
Willian was again involved as some neat inter-play in the midfield resulted in Kovacic putting Willian through with a superb pass. The Brazilian touched it past Foster but as the angle was ever decreasing he could only turn the shot against the outside of the post. Watford centre back Kabasele was injured as he slid in to try to block the shot and had a nasty collision with the post. After treatment and trying to carry on he was withdrawn with a back injury. Watford came back at us and Sema got on the end of a ball into the box at the far post but Kepa claimed easily as he volleyed back across goal. Doucoure created a couple of opportunities as the Chelsea back line were pulled out of position and he got in down the right side of the defence. Jorginho slid in to block the shot as he cut back from the goal line. Shortly afterwards Chelsea were out of shape again as the ball was pulled back to the edge of the area for Doucoure, but his shot sailed over the bar.
Hazard was dropping off into the space between defence and midfield to receive and create. Doing this from the centre forward position had left us sitting deep and with no forward pass available against Leicester’s system, but it worked against Watford. Without a sitting midfielder and tied up with Kovacic Kante and Jorginho, the two Watford central midfielders weren’t in the zone that Hazard was taking up between the lines from time to time. After linking with our wingers from this position, Eden had then made a run into the box to meet Azpilicueta’s low ball in but couldn’t make contact from the edge of the six-yard box.
Watford dropped their two centre forwards back to help the midfield when they were without the ball as the first half continued. This encouraged our back line to play higher up the pitch. One or two sloppy errors when losing the ball higher up resulted in Watford chances. Deulofeu ran at the back line after Jorginho was caught on the ball forcing Rudiger out to the right as Azpilicueta was up field. Deeney’s shot after the square pass was well blocked by Luiz. Rudiger was dispossessed high up the pitch shortly afterwards, but nothing came of the chance.
It was a Watford error that lead to the opening goal at the other end of the pitch. A square pass in midfield went straight to Kovacic, and he ran at the back line and put Hazard through one v one. Like Willian he again took the ball around Foster, but this time the chance was tucked away. Chelsea didn’t have the lead for long though. Less than a minute later Pereyra equalised for Watford. A corner was played out to him on the edge of the area from Holebas who received it short. Pereyra struck his first time effort on the volley into the bottom corner. Catching it with the outside of his foot it left Kepa no chance as it bent away from him. Watford had kept fighting and deserved to go in level at the break.
The tempo of the match in the second half carried on from the first, and at times was an end-to-end contest. This left it open in the midfield, and Hazard took advantage of the space and took hold of the half. The link play from Hazard and wingers Willian and Hudson-Odoi (on for the injured Pedro just before half time) as well as Kovacic was brilliant at times. The speed of their interchanges was much more like the Sarri style we had seen before.
Luiz looked long and nearly picked out the run of Kante over the top but he couldn’t bring it down. At the other end Capoue nearly picked out Denney with a through ball but it ran out for a goal kick. Deulofeu was again causing problems, running at Luiz into the box, the two went shoulder to shoulder and the Watford forward hit the deck. The ref wasn’t interested though and on a second look it appeared that he had dragged Luiz down if anything. As the match seesawed back and forth, Jorginho chipped a delightful ball over the top for Hazard. Foster came out to cover his back line, but clumsily clattered into Hazard. A definite penalty if you ever saw one. Hazard stepped up to take it himself and sent the former England keeper the wrong way. Chelsea were back in front. Watford were still threatening an equaliser, but their final ball was lacking. Denney headed Deulofeu in between the centre backs but his touch carried the ball out for a goal kick. The match was still open, but fewer shots were forthcoming. As we went into the last ten minutes, Chelsea looked more likely and were controlling possession better. Moving the ball around well and finding space to create. Hazard played sideways from the left to Willian just inside the box, his thunderous strike was as clean as you could wish for, and it grazed the far post on its way past.
Chelsea had done enough to hold on. Watford’s system probably suited us well, but nevertheless it was a good attacking performance with the ball. The backline needs to tighten up, particularly in transition, but on the whole it was a good way to bounce back after defeat in our previous match.
Watford (4-4-2) 1 (Pereyra 45)
Foster; Fermenia, Kabasele, (Mariappa 16), Cathcart, Holebas;
Sema, (Quina 67), Capoue, Doucoure, Pereyra;
Deulofeu, (Success 82), Deeney.
Chelsea (4-3-3) 2 (Hazard 45, 58)
Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta ©, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso;
Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic, (Barkley 80);
Willian, Hazard, Pedro, (Hudson-Odoi 43, (Emerson 85)