Chelsea made hard work, but ultimately gave their fans an entertaining match, of their first match back at Stamford Bridge since being crowned champions with a 4-3 win against Watford.
With Conte making nine changes since clinching the trophy just 72 hours prior, John Terry was restored to the line-up and made himself hero and villain inside 25 minutes, scoring the game’s first before gifting Capoue an equaliser moments later.
Azpilicueta and Batshuayi put daylight between the two sides but Jaanmart and Okaka had other ideas, before the seven-goal thriller was settled by Fabregas coming off the bench.
Whilst in other circumstances Conte will be disappointed Watford scored from all their shots on target, it proved to be a good run-out for his fringe men as his side equalled the league record of 29 victories in a season, set by the Blues themselves in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.
And with Sunderland to go at home on Sunday, there is every chance the Italian could go one better than Mourinho’s run and secure 30 wins.
division’s highest scorers going into the game with 76 goals, but even the most die-hard of Chelsea fans would not have expected this seven-goal spectacular, especially when noting the starting line-up omitted the likes of Costa and Pedro.
However the tone was set within three minutes by Willian, who was through on goal but cynically brought down to warrant the first yellow card on a busy evening for Lee Mason.
Whilst nothing came of that, great skill at Chelsea’s next attack between Batshuayi and Hazard could have yielded a goal but Hazard could not find the finish when he cut inside.
Batshuayi was then through on goal and his swivel and shot brought the corner from which Chelsea did break the deadlock. Willian’s outswinger was met, at the second attempt, by a flailing John Terry leg to score his first goal for Antonio Conte.
It was a romantic, if scrappy, goal, but the script-writer could not have timed it more perfectly for the Chelsea stalwart who is set the leave the club at the end of the season, for it was the 100th goal of Chelsea’s season, and 1,000th since Roman Abramovich took over, an era John Terry has been the lynchpin of.
Whilst the goal meant the Chelsea captain has now netted in each of his past 17 top-flight campaigns, he would undo the headlines, at least partially, by a momentary lapse in concentration which followed seconds later. A mix-up between Chalobah and himself when clearing the ball saw Terry head the ball too short back to Begovic and Capoue pounced to score just their second goal in 10 hours of action. Not so romantic after all.
Kante was clearly learning from Fabregas on the training field with a sublime Fabregas-esque 80 yard pass to Hazard, whose first touch let him down before Gomes smothered. The Belgian then was fed another delicious 80 yard ball by Willian, cutting inside but dragging wide of the near post.
Kenedy was seeking to establish himself in Conte’s plans for next season and whilst his shot was cleared by Gomes for a corner, it was from this set-piece Chelsea got their noses in front again. The ball fell kindly to Azpilicueta on the edge of the box and the Chelsea defender picked his spot and hammered it past Gomes from 20 yards for his first Premier League goal since January 2016.
The cushion became two early in the second half when Willian’s left-wing strike brought a good save from Gomes when it was destined to curl in, and from the corner Kenedy was urged to shoot. Whilst he did, he slipped and the stray shot found Ake who was deemed onside and the youngster unselfishly squared to Friday’s hero Batshuayi to tap in.
But Chelsea were clearly in party mode as once again Watford levelled within two minutes, with Jaanmart getting on the scoresheet after cutting in from the left.
Consistent Chelsea passages of play could not yet draw out the fourth goal but the hosts were probing. Hazard and Batshuayi got closest but Gomes saved with his feet from 5 yards, whilst Azpilicueta looked to grab his brace from 20 yards again but Gomes blocked this time.
Batshuayi nearly found Hazard racing clean through but for a last-ditch interception — it would have been a devastating counter attack — but Watford were in the mood to spoil a party when Okaka was introduced. Moments after coming on, the man who has played for Italy under Conte, scored against his former national team manager, latching onto a loose ball from a clever Cleverley dinked ball which none of the Chelsea back-three could deal with.
Conte introduced Aina and Fabregas in response and the latter magic man produced the goods once again, striking perfectly from the edge of the box as the game had one more goal in it.
Prodl got his marching orders in injury time for a second bookable offence, but the confetti came out soon after and the Chelsea fans could properly get into the party mood.
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Man of the Match
JOHN TERRY: I had to. Whilst he did play a big part in Capoue’s equaliser, the Chelsea captain has been a true stalwart and, in his penultimate ever Chelsea game, it was beautiful to see him roll back the years with a Terry-esque goal to break the deadlock. So scrappy but it sums up the Chelsea captain to throw his head at the ball and then be the first on the end of the loose ball to help his team out. A wonderful story. 7/10
Conte knew the important task had been achieved: “We conceded three goals but we scored four and created many chances. The most important thing was we won. Now we have target to win 30 games. The most important thing was to win the league. Then if we have the possibility to improve these records, we must try. We can reach this target. The players and I want to reach this target.”
Mazzarri enjoyed the spectacle: “I am very proud of my team. We had several players out injured. Congratulations to Antonio Conte because he is a great manager. They have great players. They deserve the title.”