Chelsea experienced the second consecutive loss against Watford conceding four goals. That’s very humiliating. Their defence is proving to be weaker especially when they have to reorganise quickly to stop rapid attacks. And that’s what shattered Chelsea’s backline yesterday allowing Watford to win on counters. As the game shifted more and more to Chelsea’s attacking third, they increasingly became at the risk of quick counters. In fact, not only the counters but the longer retention of the opponents in Chelsea’s half also increases Blues’ chances to concede as their defence has been too fragile to protect their goal against any consistent attacking moves they concede in their box.
Watford’s well-structured press
Watford used 3-4-2-1 as a counter formation to press Chelsea player by player. From the start, they maintained a tight pressing structure up to the midfield. When out of possession, the two inside forwards, Richarlison and Deulofeu, dropped back to mark Kante and Bakayoko respectively while the central midfielders, Capua and Doucoure, fell back to isolate Chelsea’s midfield and front line if the play seemed to move forward. Deeney made sure to put pressure on Courtois every time the Belgian was engaged in the play and on the Chelsea’s backline when any back pass was being played. Due to this pressing structure, Chelsea could hardly make their way beyond their midfield in the first half. Since Watford were gaining possession back via interceptions in Chelsea half, that’s where most of the game was played – by both teams alternatively.
To make their way out of the press, Chelsea attempted quick counters and build-up passes. But for most of the time, the home team organised their press effectively to break up the passing structure and delimit their passing options. Even when Chelsea made into the attacking third using width, thanks to some really nice glimpses of work by Kante, Zappacosta and Hazard, Watford were able to sort out their defence in no time.
Chelsea’s poor touches and unresponsiveness to loose balls
Chelsea tend to give their worst under tight man-marking, like they did yesterday. They made so many poor touches and loose passes almost throughout the game thus giving up the possession. The tight press allowed the Hornets to quickly intercept and steal possession back from the Blues. And as the opponents already had their advanced players in the respective region, they frequently penetrated and posed threats to Chelsea either via fast-paced mid-range or long passes.
Watford’s tight marking also resisted the Blues to make a compact passing structure which could have allowed them to react timely to the loose balls. Chelsea were very slow to respond to loose balls either if they were their own or of the opponents. Thus, they lost back to back possessions to the home team and conceded many dangerous counters.
Watford vs Chelsea’s attack
Watford were quick to initiate counters especially from their extreme right wing. They were marked by Chelsea from the inside of the flank but laterally they were bordered only by the touchline so they used the touchline-freedom finely to execute long crosses. Also, Watford were better to retain possession in air than the Blues. Chelsea, on the other hand, relied on long passing mostly due to the tight press. But as Watford were speedier to react, Chelsea lost possession in the second balls from their long range passes.
The Blues improved their attack for the good part of the second half even though they were down to 10 men. Pedro dropped deep at different vertical planes to help teammates in maintaining possession in their half until they find someone at least partially unmarked at the front. Since Hazard was tightly marked at the front including other players, Zappacosta made fast runs up the pitch past his respective opponent. Being the speediest at the wings, he served as the advanced figure to initiate attack from the left flank and create chances. Zappacosta, Kante, and Fabregas also demonstrated good cross passing at the left, which compressed the opponent there and created space at the remaining field allowing Chelsea to divert their play to the open space. This made Chelsea to enter more frequently in the final third throughout the third quarter, amidst the end to end battle, forcing the Hornets to sit back and make compact defence lines.
But all these offensive attempts of the away team were nullified in the goal area as their incoherent passing structure at the front didn’t let them make a defence-cracking move or create a well-place assist. May be Chelsea were in need of at least one more striker who would be fast enough in front of goal. And that’s why Conte had Olivier Giroud to make his debut. The 31-year-old did make some moves to pull his respective defender out of position. Although Giroud didn’t show any hopeful finishing attempt, he seems quicker and more robust than Morata when it comes to responding to assists out of a compact defence.
It might be too early to say, but we can hope Hazard and Giroud to form a good attacking partnership. That was something expected from the Pedro-Hazard and Morata-Hazard pair too. Nonetheless, Hazard and Giroud seems to match their speed and compatibility in the attacking third better than the other frontline pairs. Let’s see first if the three-day break works for Conte’s men.