Chelsea produced a dramatic late comeback from 2-1 down to beat Watford 4-2 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. A superb substitute appearance from Michy Batshuayi made the difference as Watford’s poor finishing meant they did not capitalise on a lacklustre Chelsea performance.
With Pedro and Eden Hazard reunited in Chelsea’s final third, the match was destined to be free-flowing. It did not disappoint from the off. An early chance for Alvaro Morata was followed by a couple of openings for Watford, as Chelsea’s defence once again showed the fragility that Roma exposed in midweek.
The visitors were the better side early on. Richarlison was a threat down the left, and the midfield duo of Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko were too often bypassed again. The threat of the Blues on the counter-attack was the highest it has been in a while, as Morata pulled the Watford centre-backs all over the pitch and Eden Hazard provided typical moments of brilliance.
Chelsea’s breakthrough came in the 12th minute. Short corners are frequently bemoaned – and with good reason – but this time it brought a goal. Hazard fed the ball to Pedro, who was about 25 yards from goal in the inside-right channel. As it rolled across him, the Spaniard swept his right boot through the ball to unleash a curving shot. Heurelho Gomes was left stranded as it whipped into the net via the far post. The former Barcelona forward has delivered in crucial moments for Chelsea so often, and this goal clearly released some tension from Stamford Bridge.
The Hornets enjoyed solid possession again after the hosts had taken the lead. A counter soon followed for Chelsea, however. Morata held the ball up, and spotted Fabregas open on the right. Abdoulaye Doucoure could not get enough on the attempted interception to stop the pass, and the ball reached the Spaniard in the box. Gomes came rushing out, but an ill-judged chip from Fabregas was plucked out of the air by Watford’s goalkeeper.
The match bounced from end-to-end for the remainder of the first half. Bookings were picked up by both sides, as physical challenges flew in from all over the pitch. Antonio Rudiger at right-centre-back was uneasy with the movement of Richarlison, while Cesar Azpilicueta’s dip in form was evident again.
As Marco Silva’s side built the pressure, Chelsea’s defence creaked louder. A long throw-in was pelted into the box in the closing moments of the first half, and Doucoure struck the ball into the tightest of spaces past Thibaut Courtois at the near post. Doucoure approached the ball like his feet were a bit muddled, but showed superb technique to fire it past the Belgian.
Ethan Ampadu was warming up at half-time with the Chelsea crowd clearly restless. Ampadu is yet to appear in the Premier League, but Conte has been open about his willingness to use the former Exeter youngster.
With Ampadu remaining on the bench, Chelsea flew out the traps. Adrian Mariappa produced an athletic, perhaps fortunate, clearance from a low cross, and Marcos Alonso had a cross blocked from the six-yard box.
Somehow, Richarlison then missed a near-open goal from five yards out in the 49th minute. Whether excused as a slice, or blamed on the distraction of Azpilicueta, it was a howler.
Watford, though, were hardly struggling to create chances. Roberto Perreya found himself a few yards out with a clear chance, and passed it by Courtois. Chelsea’s defence was a shambles; again. The Hornets’ fans rejoiced, Chelsea’s fans were wondering how their 30-win champions from last season had turned to such a mess. The absence of N’golo Kante can only explain so much.
The Blues only remained in the game through disastrous finishing from Watford. Richarlison had a free header that he managed to put as far wide as he was from the goal, and a barrage of Watford shots reigned in on Courtois’ net.
After being battered, and largely ineffective, Morata was substituted for Michy Batshuayi. The Belgian is no more than a last resort for Conte. Removing your £70 million striker when you are 2-1 down at home is a sign of the chaos at Chelsea at the moment.
Even in such a situation, Watford were the team threatening more. The hosts’ defence was parting with the mildest of pressure, and the jitters were overcoming every player in Blue. Kiko Femenia and Jose Holebas had the beating of Marcos Alonso and Azpilicueta, and the absence of Andreas Christensen was becoming more puzzling with each Watford possession.
Conte turned to his bench again. This time it was Willian, with the Brazilian replacing Alonso. An attacking option was required, but the Italian manager still stuck with his 3-4-3.
In the 70th minute, Batshuayi earned a little more of Conte’s trust. Pedro’s right foot played a key role again, with the Spaniard whipping the ball in. The Belgian leapt and guided a header into the far corner. A header, in fact, that even a certain Ivorian would have been proud of. The goal was Batshuayi’s fifth a substitute in the league since the start of last season.
The chaotic – to put it mildly – defending from Chelsea continued. The home side did have more possession after their second goal, however, and Batshuayi proved to be a greater threat than Morata. A curled effort from the edge of the box brought a few optimistic cheers from the crowd, but it drifted well wide.
The substitute then received a low pass from a free-kick, and rolled his marker. His movement was smart, but the finish sailed well in to the fans.
A couple of crosses sailed over Batshuayi’s head, but he was causing problems. He had been a focal point.
It was Azpilicueta – now playing on the left – who delivered the goal to make it 3-2. Willian drove a cross from Chelsea’s right, and the Spaniard was left unmarked at the back post to nod home. In his worst spell of form as a Blue, and in a match where he could have been replaced for a better offensive option, Chelsea’s most reliable player over the last few seasons was in the right place at the right time.
Batshuayi delivered a fourth for the Blues. It was irrelevant in injury-time, but his performance could be pivotal in his Chelsea career.
After the draws with Arsenal and Roma, and defeats to Manchester City and Crystal Palace, another defeat could have triggered another managerial change at the Bridge. A player every manager would love will have made Conte even fonder of him.