Watford vs Chelsea: Match preview and predicted line-ups
With both clubs steered by new, coincidentally Italian managers going into this new campaign, and having picked up points on the opening weekend, the two dons will be hoping their squads can continue to impress as Walter Mazzari’s Watford welcome Antonio Conte’s Chelsea to Vicarage Road on Matchday II of the 2016/17 campaign. A Saturday afternoon 15:00 kick-off, the match will go under the radar of the TV cameras, understandably so given the two clubs held each other to a 0-0 stalemate in this fixture last season. This match is capable of throwing up some excitement however, with the two sides pulling out a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge last season. Historically this fixture is dominated by the visitors, Watford only winning once in six Premier League meetings with the Blues, two ending in draws and the other three all Chelsea victories.
Chelsea’s pre-season form under Conte has been impressive, with five wins out of a possible six, including a 1-0 victory over Premier League rivals Liverpool. The Blues took the points in their first Premier League outing of the season too, coming out on top in the first instalment of Monday Night Football in the 2016/17 campaign, a 2-1 win in a London Derby over West Ham United, with Diego Costa netting a late winner. Eden Hazard-who scored a penalty on the night- and Nemanja Matic looked rejuvenated players compared to last season during Monday’s win, whilst new £32million signing N’Golo Kanté from defending champions Leicester City completed the full 90 minutes with an impressive performance. There was room for a five-minute cameo for another new signing, Michy Batshuayi who joined from Ligue 1 club Marseille, whilst Cesc Fabregas was surprisingly an unused substitute. They were forced to work hard for their opening day victory, but they restricted the Hammers to a mere one shot on target- from which they scored- and if they are as clinical as they were on Monday then Blues fans can be hopeful of another positive result in Hertfordshire.
After the surprise dismissal of Quique Sanchez Flores as manager, Watford’s form throughout pre-season was somewhat more inconsistent as Mazzarri took the reins, with predictable victories over Stevenage and Union Berlin, as well as underwhelming draws with non-league Woking and Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala followed by a 2-0 defeat to Queen’s Park Rangers. Their opening showing of the Premier League season saw them gain a point at St. Mary’s with a 1-1 draw against a determined Southampton. Etienne Capoue put the Hornets ahead after just nine minutes, slamming home after Troy Deeney’s knock-down, before the home side equalised with Nathan Redmond’s stunning volley; it took a goal that special to break down Watford’s resistance. They showed determination to hang on for a point in the last 15 minutes, after midfielder Ben Watson was dismissed for a foul on Shane Long. A first home win of the season would be ideal for Watford, but against a resurgent Chelsea, another hard-earned point wouldn’t be a result to be sniffed at.
Watford are free of any injury problems but will face the issue of Ben Watson’s suspension after his red card on Saturday. He was dismissed after coming off the bench however, and with him out of the squad, at this early stage of the season we can expect Mazzarri at this early stage of the season to keep faith with the same line-up that coped so well at Southampton. That would mean starting with a back three, a system so often used by opposite number Antonio Conte with Juventus and Italy, with three central players, likely to be Guédioura, Behrami and Capoue as was the case last week. The width would be provided by energetic full-back by trade Miguel Britos on the left flank, and former Málaga and PSV winger Nordin Amrabat on the right, and they would be responsible for getting up the pitch, and folding back beyond the midfield three into a back-five to help with defensive duties when Chelsea roam forward. First-choice front pair Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, predictably, will start, and the onus will be on them to provide the goal threat.
Away from home, Chelsea will look to stifle Watford and restrict them to minimal opportunities just as they did at home against West Ham on Monday, who managed a mere one shot on target. Much will depend on whether Conte looks to restrict Watford to the same extent, though if he stays true to his cautious defensive mindset, it would mean deploying an extra defensive midfielder to cover ground in front of the back four, meaning N’Golo Kanté, who impressed on his debut, will likely be set to keep his place alongside Nemanja Matic in midfield, at the expense of Cesc Fabregas once more. Conte will predictably keep faith with the same defensive set-up after Cesar Azplicueta and Branislav Ivanovic got up the pitch to support the attack so effectively against West Ham, with Eden Hazard and Willian providing the width in the attacking midfield three, and Oscar in the Number Ten role to wreak havoc behind spearhead Diego Costa.
Watford predicted starting XI Chelsea predicted starting XI
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Watford were missing club-record signing Isaac Success on the opening weekend through injury and he may miss out again or at least have to settle for a place on the bench before he has his opportunity to displace either Deeney or Ighalo in Watford’s first-choice front two. Ben Watson’s sending off on the opening day means that Walter Mazzarri will have to make do without the midfielder in his matchday squad against Chelsea. It was Watson’s fourth career red card in English league football.
Chelsea comparatively have a fully fit squad to choose from after picking up no fresh injuries during their curtain-raiser at home to West Ham. Diego Costa is available after escaping a sending off for a reckless follow-through challenge on goalkeeper Ádrian, and N’Golo Kanté is at Conte’s disposal having escaped a second booking for a clumsy foul late-on on Dimitri Payet, having already picked up a caution for felling Andy Carroll.
The poor start Chelsea made to last season already seems like ancient history after a superb defensive performance to stifle the Hammers’ attack on Monday, and all logic points to them extending their record to two wins. Despite long Euro 2016 campaigns for some players, Chelsea have a full compliment at their disposal who look like they lack nothing in sharpness, and although Watford were gallant in defending their point at Saints last weekend, the rejuvenated firepower of Conte’s team should be just a little too hot for Watford to handle. The Hornets are however well drilled under Mazzarri, and they will make it a close-knit affair, and may well profit out wide from Chelsea’s full-backs breaking too far forward, with Britos and Amrabat looking to capitalise by getting in behind Azpilicueta and Ivanovic. Both sides will come out to play a deep-lying defensive game, and it is more than likely that Chelsea will show the attacking intent of the two in the circumstances from which Watford can profit on the counter, though the little extra class in Chelsea’s ranks will make a telling difference, so our prediction is a 2-1 win for the away side.