Chelsea headed into this fixture following a disappointing 3-3 draw to Roma in which they dramatically threw away lead 2-0 . They also came into the fixture behind their opponents Watford. The high-flying Hornets were in tremendous form under Marco Silva but the 6-0 defeat to Manchester City left a bitter taste in the club’s mouth. With the table slowly taking shape, Chelsea really couldn’t afford to drop any more points. Off-field issues also clouded the club as there were rumours of some players being unhappy with Conte’s tough training methods & with a few Chelsea players succumbing to muscular injuries, could they have a point?
The midfield battle
When Watford were in possession, Doucoure would stay around the half way line to protect against counter attacks whilst Tom Cleverley drifted in between the lines to provide a link between their midfield & attack. This asymmetric 3-3-1-3 shape left Watford disconnected as Doucoure didn’t possess the passing accuracy to find a threatening pass. Chelsea’s midfield pairing of Bakayoko & Fabregas held their shape & protected their box via zonal marking. Due to vertical passing options virtually being shut down, Doucoure had to pass sideways but this caused him to lose the ball a lot due to Chelsea anticipating these moves & then creating turnovers. Bakayoko & Fabregas seemed better drilled than they were last time out against Crystal Palace but had they faced better midfielders, it would be likely that they would’ve come under more pressure.
Wide areas stretch Watford
Off the ball, Watford aimed to limit central space by marking zonally and defending in a mid-low block. As a result of them targeting horizontal compactness, this left Chelsea’s wing backs with vast amounts of time & space to pick out a good ball. What further aided Chelsea’s wing backs was that the low pressure from Watford’s midfielders allowed Bakayoko & Fabregas to spread the ball wide under relatively non-existent pressure. This was a source for many of Chelsea’s chances, with Batshuayi’s first goal coming from an excellent cross from Pedro.
All though it wasn’t a reoccurring theme, it was an important moment to highlight nevertheless. Watford were in a 5v4 counter attacking situation. Gary Cahill (the LCB) came inside to try and dispossess the ball carrier (Troy Deeney) who was also being pursued by Cesc Fabregas, Tiemoue Bakayoko & David Luiz who was in his path. Cesc Fabregas managed to keep up with Troy Deeney but Gary Cahill tripped over his teammate thus taking both out of this phase of play. As Rudiger & Luiz held their positions, they were unable to cover the unmarked Roberto Pereyra who had an easy finish in the space vacated by Cahill. It must be said that a number of poor performances over the last 18 months have led to Chelsea & football fans in general to question whether Cahill is the weak link in the back 3. And with Andreas Christensen waiting in the wings, Cahill may well find himself on the bench if he doesn’t improve.
With Chelsea facing Manchester United in just over two weeks, that could be a real indicator as to how far Chelsea are away from another ‘Mourinho season’. In that time they’ll be hopeful of securing a place in Champions League knockout stages with a good performance away to Roma & in the EFL cup, the visit of an out of sorts Everton should be a chance to build some momentum. Next Saturday they travel to Bournemouth & by then they’ll be optimistic that their mounting injury list will begin to ease.