If there’s a team in the Premier League right now that that you wouldn’t want to face when looking to stop a winless streak, it would be Watford. But the Hornets are the next test for Chelsea at lunchtime Saturday when the two teams meet at Stamford Bridge.
It’s been a bit of a trying time for the Blues at the moment. If the fact that Chelsea are winless in their last three matches isn’t harrowing enough, the injury toll is beginning to mount up and with it, manager Antonio Conte’s disappointment over lack of signings in the summer.
While injuries aren’t always the best excuse, Conte might have a bit of a point at the moment. Alvaro Morata may have recovered to face Roma midweek in the Champions League, but David Luiz picked up a calf problem and Tiemoue Bakayoko appeared to have a groin problem after the match, adding to the list of injuries that include N’Golo Kante and Victor Moses.
In his pre-match press conference, Conte alluded to the fact that he won’t be able to decide his squad until a few players pass late fitness tests, but suggested that he could wind up with Cesc Fabregas as his only fit centre midfielder if Bakayoko and Luiz are still injured and with Danny Drinkwater having just returned to full training.
It’s not a great position for any team, but it’s especially not great when you’re coming up against one of the form teams of the season.
Marco Silva took over as manager of Watford in the summer after nearly performing a miracle to keep Hull City in the Premier League, and his status has only been enhanced this season.
Watford currently sit fourth in the Premier League having suffered just one defeat in the league, a 6-0 hammering at the hands of Manchester City, and in the process earning a draw against Liverpool on the opening day of the season and a win over Arsenal in their last match.
More to the point, he’s given Watford an identity as a team that are tough to play against because they’re very well organised with enough quality to cause teams trouble, especially if you aren’t sharp in your play. And they can do it in multiple ways.
Against Arsenal, they sensed that Arsenal weren’t up for the physical battle, so they pressed and harried the Arsenal players, and the introduction of Troy Deeney’s physical presence unsettled the Arsenal centre backs, leading to errors that resulted in two goals.
Against Liverpool, they took advantage of shaky goalkeeping and distribution from their centre backs to pick the ball off in the midfield and catch them on the break.
The big threat from Watford and possibly the revelation of the league so far this season is the play of Richarlison. The Brazilian joined Watford from Fluminense and is the one player in that Watford team that’s capable of a moment of individual brilliance.
But other players, like Stefano Okaka and Abdoulaye Doucoure, bring their own set of problems with pace and power that caused trouble for us last season, particularly against our centre backs who had some issues dealing with Okaka last season.
However, a victory against Watford with a side that’s out of form and a bit injured at the moment could be a big three points for Chelsea from a psychological standpoint. Three consecutive defeats in the Premier League and a draw in the Champions League is practically unthinkable, and the ramifications could be severe.
Conte admitted that he got his tactical plan wrong against Roma, and the team did struggle in the first hour to gain any sort of control of the match. The Italian showed last season that he has the ability to adapt and find the correct solutions. He must show that against Watford or the pressure on him will only continue to mount.