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Three talking points as Chelsea came out on top against Watford in a pulsating encounter

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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.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

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Chelsea

Chelsea 4-0 Hull City – Willian plays himself into Champions League contention

Jake Jackman

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Chelsea

Chelsea continued their upturn in form with a convincing 4-0 win over Hull City in the FA Cup. The Blues were overwhelming favourites for the tie, but they had to get the job done and they did so effectively, scoring four times in the first-half.

They would have had one eye on the Champions League tie against Barcelona that is upcoming and that led to Antonio Conte making several changes.

The Italian decided to rest key players such as Eden Hazard, Ngolo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta. It was the right decision as they progressed with comfort. Here are three talking points from the match:

Olivier Giroud is off the mark

One huge positive to come out of the game for the hosts was Olivier Giroud’s first goal for the club. He signed in January to provide competition for Alvaro Morata and his performances have been encouraging since signing, but to hit the back of the net takes the pressure off the Frenchman.

The signing carried relatively little risk for Chelsea as the striker has lots of experience in England and his consistency is already shining through in a Blues’ shirt.

Early into the game, he had a great opportunity to open his account, but he blazed a volley over the bar. It was a difficult chance as the ball was lifted over the defence to play him in, but a striker of his calibre should have done better.

Three goals were scored and he didn’t score one of them. If he had finished the match without scoring, it would have been talked about and that is why his goal just before half-time will relieve the pressure from him.

The rest of his game was excellent as he got two assists and linked up the play well from the front-line. Although he was brought in to be the back-up striker, Conte may give him the start against Barcelona as he is the player in form.

Hull City showed fight in the second half

The contest was over by the time the players stepped back out for the second-half, but Hull City showed fight and commitment to keep the score down to 4-0.

Nigel Adkins knows the importance of every mental victory when battling against relegation and to draw the second half can provide the players with confidence ahead of a return to league action.

Their performance was markedly improved as they created good opportunities and came close to scoring from the penalty spot. David Meyler stepped up and saw his penalty saved, but that didn’t see the players lose focus as they continued to create opportunities. During the match, they had 10 shots to Chelsea’s 14, which shows that they were far from embarrassed. They just didn’t have the quality in the final third that their Premier League opposition did possess.

It would be a huge blow for Hull City to suffer back-to-back relegations and their manager will be aware of that. This match against Chelsea was a good occasion, but it was far from a priority and their defeat won’t live too long in the memory.

They are currently 21st in the Championship and only above the bottom three by one point. Their far superior goal difference provides encouragement, but they must show this level of commitment until the end of the season if they are to avoid the drop.

Willian proved his quality before the return of the Champions League

Rotation can cause problems in the FA Cup, but in this case, it provided an opportunity to those that are on the fringes of the first-team to play themselves into contention for the Champions League.

Willian is an interesting case as he does feature prominently, but he isn’t a guaranteed first-team starter, as Pedro often gets the nod to start ahead of him.

Willian was excellent against Hull City and certainly gave his manager some food for thought ahead of the match with Barcelona. He completed six dribbles, attempted four shots and made three key passes as he terrorised the opposition defence. On the day, he scored twice, but he easily could have got a hat-trick.

Antonio Conte will be aware that his team’s big weakness is an over-reliance on Eden Hazard. The return of Cesc Fabregas goes some way to providing some support to the Belgian, but if Chelsea can get Willian playing to this level consistently, that would be a positive. He is more dynamic than Pedro and offers more flair to the attack. This performance could see him start against Barcelona.

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Chelsea

Chelsea 3-0 West Bromwich Albion: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from Stamford Bridge as an Eden Hazard inspired Chelsea dismantled a struggling West Bromwich Albion side.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Chelsea eased the pressure on Antonio Conte after a brace from Eden Hazard saw off basement boys West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge.

It had been a troubling week for the Blues, following back-to-back heavy defeats against Bournemouth and Watford that had cast serious doubts over Conte’s position as manager.

But Hazard netted twice, either side of a goal from Victor Moses to complete a routine victory over the Baggies, who lost loan star Daniel Sturridge to injury after just three minutes.

Chelsea leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur into fourth spot as the battle for the top four heats up, while West Brom remain seven points adrift of safety.

Here are three talking points…

Talismanic Hazard comes to the rescue again

Just days after he was voted as Belgium’s player of the year by his peers, Hazard underlined his ability as a footballer of rare class with another brace to take his tally to 11 for the season.

Chelsea’s number 10 has an excellent scoring record against West Brom, one which he improved upon with a display that was too good for the Baggies to handle.

Hazard is a talismanic performer and when he hits his straps, the rest of the team feed off him.

Hazard combined with new boy Olivier Giroud to slam home his first of the evening, which eased the tension at Stamford Bridge.

The 27-year-old added his second and rounded off the scoring late in the second half, slamming the ball past visiting keeper Ben Foster.

Back in the top four as a result of this victory, Hazard will be the key to Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

With him in their ranks, anything is possible.

Conte relieved as the pressure lifts

One man who will be extremely grateful for Hazard’s dazzling display is Conte.

The Italian seemed to be on the brink after last week’s 4-1 loss to Watford, which came hot on the heels of a similarly catastrophic result at home to Bournemouth.

Conte’s prickly demeanour and comments in press conferences had led some to speculate that he was goading the Chelsea board into sacking him, less than a year after he steered the club to the Premier League title.

Either way, it’s clear he retains the full support of the Stamford Bridge faithful, which was vocal in its support for Conte throughout the game, chanting his name with regularity.

Conte himself was typically demonstrative on the touchline, bellowing instructions and celebrating each of the goals as his players repaid him with an improved performance.

Whether he will be in the dugout next season remains to be seen, but for now at least his job is more secure than it was a week ago.

Sturridge’s World Cup audition falls flat

In front of watching England manager Gareth Southgate, Sturridge would have been hopeful of making a positive impression following his shock move to West Brom in the January window.

The Liverpool striker made the switch in order to enhance his prospects of making the World Cup squad, which will be named in little over three months’ time.

Few doubt Sturridge’s quality, but his fragile body continually struggles to hold up under the intensity of Premier League football.

His withdrawal due to a hamstring strain less than three minutes on the clock was a monumental blow, both to him personally and West Brom’s ambitions of springing a surprise against Chelsea.

Although he is expected to be sidelined for only a couple of weeks, this latest setback again raises questions over his durability.

Sturridge’s opportunities to prove he deserves to be on the plane to Russia are fast running out.

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Which four of the ‘big-six’ clubs will qualify for next season’s Champions League?

Martyn Cooke

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There are just 12 games remaining of the current Premier League season and, with Manchester City seemingly destined to secure the title, attention will now turn towards the battle to secure a place in the top-four.

There are only three places available to share between Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool and two of those clubs will be have to be content with competing in the Europa League next season.

Here, The Boot Room predicts who will finish in the top four at the end of the season…

Arsenal

There was once a time when the possibility of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League was unthinkable, yet the Gunners are facing the realistic possibility of missing out on playing in Europe’s elite club competition for the second consecutive season.

This campaign they have been held back by their inconsistent and unpredictable form away from home and are playing catch-up with their rivals with a five-point gap emerging between themselves and fourth place.

There is a new sense of optimism around the Emirates Stadium after Wenger added Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to his squad yet a defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday would all but end their hopes – qualifying through winning the Europa League could be a more realistic option.

Prediction: 6th

Manchester United

There is currently a slight sense of disappointment around Old Trafford this season that, despite obvious progress since the arrival of Jose Mourinho, the club have had to be content with seeing cross-city rivals Manchester City stroll their way towards the Premier League title.

It is difficult to imagine Manchester United missing out on a Champions League place as they already have a considerable buffer of seven points and undoubtedly have a squad that is full of quality and experience.

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez will provide additional impetus in the closing stages of the campaign and the only real danger is that their attention might be redirected towards challenging for the Champions League or FA Cup with the title already all but lost.

However, Mouirnho has his team ticking over nicely and it is likely that they will maintain their current league position.

Prediction: 2nd  

Chelsea

It has been a frustrating and increasing turbulent season at Stamford Bridge following the failure of Chelsea to build on last season’s title triumph.

Back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford have left the Blues clinging on to their place in the top four and there is now a realistic possibility that they may miss out on Champions League qualification.

Antonio Conte’s frustration with the club’s transfer policy has been clear to see since the summer and the off-pitch squabbling can only be a destabilising influence for the players.

Chelsea are certainly a team that are out of form and appear to be short of confidence and direction and it will be a true test of Conte’s managerial prowess to see if he can facilitate some sort of revival in the closing months of the season.

However, momentum is currently against them and they may well be one of the two clubs to miss out.

Prediction: 6th

Liverpool

You get the sense that it is always two steps forward followed by one step back at Anfield under Jurgen Klopp and you never know quite what to expect.

Liverpool continue to be consistently inconsistent as demonstrated by their recent, contrasting performances against Manchester City and Swansea City.

The arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window is a boost, although recent games have suggested that he alone will not solve the club’s defensive frailties, whilst the sale of Phillip Coutinho is offset by the impressive array of attacking players that Klopp has collected.

If Liverpool can put together a good run of results then they will be able to capitalise on Antonio Conte’s woes as Chelsea and finish in the top four.

Prediction: 4th

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur supporters will now have a taste for Champions League football after the success of their team in this year’s competition and they are hitting form at just the right moment in the Premier League.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side are unbeaten since mid-December and have plenty of momentum with the inspirational figure of Harry Kane continuing to his remarkable, prolific run of form in front of goal.

Much will depend on whether the England striker can stay fit until the end of the season whilst they also need Dele Alli to rediscover the sparkle that he has lost in recent months.

Tottenham face a season-defining fixture on Saturday when they face Arsenal in the North London derby but they should have enough quality to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Prediction: 3rd

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