Two late goals eased the growing pressure on Antonio Conte’s shoulders as Chelsea came from behind to secure a dramatic win over an excellent Watford side at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
The reigning Premier League champions went into Saturday’s clash on the back of three games without a win – including last weekend’s defeat at Crystal Palace – but they got off to the perfect start at Stamford Bridge when Pedro curled in a stunning effort from 25-yards into the far corner.
Conte’s side were far from superior, though, and Watford managed to get themselves back in the game seconds before the break when Abdoulaye Doucoure’s swerving effort squeezed into the net.
The timing of the goal seemed to buoy the visitors and they came out firing in the second-half, taking the lead when Roberto Pereyra found space inside the box to finish past Thibaut Courtois.
Chelsea rolled the dice in search of an equaliser, bringing on Michy Batshuayi and Willian, and the Belgian striker made the telling impact when he levelled the scores with a smart near-post header.
Cesar Azpilicueta then popped up in the right place at the right time to secure a winner in the 87th minute, before Batshuayi made sure of it with his second, sending Chelsea up to fourth in the table.
Antonio Conte’s substitutes help the Blues paper over the cracks
It wasn’t vintage by any means.
However, football is a results business and, in coming from behind to secure a much-needed win against Watford, Antonio Conte will no doubt be breathing a massive sigh of relief following a thrilling match.
He is a man that has come under fire for his side’s performances in recent weeks but the Italian deserves credit for his decision-making on Saturday, and it was his foresight to introduce Batshuayi and Willian in the second-half that ultimately turned a topsy-turvy encounter in his side’s favour.
It is not often that a player comes on in the second-half of a game and wins the man of the match accolade but that is exactly what the Belgian did, and his two goals helped his side to a critical win.
Batshuayi continued his prolific recent record from the bench – now scoring six goals in his last nine Premier League appearances – and his double took his record to a goal every 60.1 minutes this season, which is not bad for a player that still can’t impress Conte enough to warrant a starting berth.
His equaliser was a true centre-forward’s goal, darting across his man before glancing a powerful header into the far corner, and it gave his side some impetus when the game started drifting beyond them.
Willian also deserves a mention too, coming on and injecting some pace into Chelsea’s play and giving them a potent option on the break. It was his superb cross that created Azpilicueta’s winning goal.
There is no doubt that Chelsea were not at the races on Saturday – and they certainly didn’t play like champions – but you have to admire their fight, and Conte deserves some praise for his part in that.
Chelsea defensively inept as Watford miss out
Chelsea’s ability to grind out three points will only serve to paper over the cracks of an otherwise poor display, and suddenly the Blue’s reputation of being defensively sound is starting to crumble quickly.
They have conceded seven goals in their past three matches in all competitions and for some reason or other on Saturday their wing-back system left them hugely exposed at the back, with Watford capitalising on numerous occasions.
Marcos Alonso and Azpilicueta were caught too far up the pitch too often, leaving the back-three firmly isolated, and Richarlison, in particular, had a field day running at the back line with the space on offer.
The hosts were carved open three times in just five second-half minutes – one of which resulted in Pereyra’s goal – and Watford arguably should have been out of sight by the hour mark with the young Brazilian having two glorious opportunities in front of goal to score, but he fluffed his lines badly.
It perhaps goes to show just how much Chelsea miss the dominant presence of N’Golo Kante in midfield when he is not playing, with Tiemoue Bakayoko offering very little protection in a holding position.
The worrying thing for Chelsea fans is that the French star is in a real race against time to be fit for the huge visit of Manchester United on November 5th – and that would be a huge blow if he is not available.
Defeat tough to take for wasteful Watford
For all the talk of Chelsea being below par, Watford were excellent.
Marco Silva has worked wonders at the Hornets since taking over and it showed once again at the champions. Nobody would have begrudged Watford all three points had they got over the line.
After going behind they didn’t let their heads drop – as most teams would away at Chelsea – and instead, they got straight on the front foot, taking the game to the hosts and pushing them back into their own third of the pitch. This persistence paid its dividends when they got their noses in front after the break.
The most impressive thing about this Watford side has been their relentless work-rate, all of a sudden having a never-say-die attitude, and it is testament to the impact Silva has had since arriving.
As alluded to above, it could have been oh so different had Richarlison taken his chances, missing an absolute sitter from five-yards out before sending a free header wide from an equally promising position, and there would have been an air of bitter disappointment in the dressing room yesterday.
Nonetheless, Watford have shown they are more than capable of competing this season and, in the same way they did after the 6-0 defeat to Manchester City, Silva’s side now have to bounce back against Stoke next week.