Premier League 17/18: Watford vs Chelsea – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Javi Gracia aims to banish Watford’s blues while Chelsea turn to Giroud in a bid to rekindle their floundering form and reclaim third place.
20:00 GMT, Monday 5th February, Vicarage Road (Watford, England) Sky Sports
With only two points collected from their last five games and seven defeats from their last ten, Watford are a side struggling to avert their slide.
Javi Gracia is the new man in charge at Watford but the Spanish manager has so far been unable to inspire his team into making any significant improvements.
Although Watford have only three home wins in the league this season, they have shown they can rise to the occasion by beating Leicester and Arsenal and also taking a point from both Liverpool and Tottenham at Vicarage Road this term.
Nine months ago, Chelsea beat Watford to claim the Premier League title outright, however, that victory seems a far cry from where the Blues find themselves today.
A heavy home defeat by the Cherries has seen things go from bad to worse for Antonio Conte’s side who began January with four successive draws and ended the month with two defeats from three.
With speculation regarding Conte’s future dominating the pre-match build-up, the result of this fixture could have major ramifications for both the club and manager if they fail to record a tenth win from twelve consecutive games against the Hornets.
Last Time Out
Stoke 0-0 Watford (Premier League)
Gracia’s first Premier League game as Watford manager produced a steady, if unspectacular, display in a match comprised of much substance but little style.
During a physical battle which treads a fine line along the accepted boundaries of the game, Watford showed an appetite and desire which would please their new manager.
Gerard Deulofeu had a lively debut on the right-side of Watford’s attack, most notably providing a sumptuous cross for Richarlison in the first half which the Brazilian miscued over the bar.
But while the Hornets enjoyed the better chances before half-time, Stoke were the more effective team after the interval.
With Christian Kabasele physically imposing in the centre of defence and Orestis Karnezis looking assured in the Watford goal, the Hornets were much more solid than they’ve been lately and deserved a point for their battling performance on a bitingly cold night in Staffordshire.
Chelsea 0-3 Bournemouth (Premier League)
The Blues fell to their heaviest home defeat of Conte’s reign as they were easily beaten during a disjointed performance.
The first half saw Chelsea play relatively conservatively and lacking of any notable rhythm, something not helped by the loss of Andreas Christensen to injury after 28 minutes.
While the Blues were enjoying more possession, Bournemouth pressed and harried Chelsea which led to individual errors creeping into the game and worked to snuff out any threat.
The second half then exploded into life as one such mistake by Tiemoue Bakayoko gifted Callum Wilson the chance to open the scoring for the Cherries.
Two more goals within 16 minutes then heaped more misery on Chelsea, the latter goal being scored by former Chelsea player Nathan Aké to add further salt to the wound.
While Chelsea were weak at the back, they were also hopelessly lacking in attack too. A late rally looked to claw something back from the match. However, Chelsea finished the game with sixteen of their twenty-one shots off-target and no genuine complaints over the result other than the nature of their own game.
Watford’s injury crisis continues with Heurelho Gomes (back), Francisco Femenía (hamstring), Miguel Britos (leg), Craig Cathcart (knee), Will Hughes (hamstring) and Nathaniel Chalobah (knee) all still being ruled out for the Hornets.
New signing Didier Ndong serves the first of a three-match suspension for a red card picked up in Sunderland’s recent defeat by Cardiff City. Elsewhere, Younes Kaboul should return to the bench while Tom Cleverley (leg) faces a late fitness test ahead of tonight’s match.
The midfielder only just returned to the side in midweek following a two-week layoff for a similar problem and is most likely to be allowed more time to recover fully.
Andreas Christensen (hamstring) misses this match after limping from the field against Bournemouth while Álvaro Morata (back) is also unavailable along with Ross Barkley who suffered a hamstring injury in training.
Willian is set to be ready for selection though and along with Antonio Rüdiger, Cesc Fàbregas, Victor Moses, Danny Drinkwater and new signing Olivier Giroud, will be hoping to make his way into the starting lineup.
Key Battle: Gerard Deulofeu (Watford) vs Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)
The performance of Watford’s new loan-signing was one of the biggest positives for Gracia to take away from the solitary point won at the Potteries.
Not only did the Spaniard show plenty of skill and enterprise, he also has plenty of raw pace which adds to that of Andre Gray and Richarlison.
His work-rate too can play a huge role for his new team as his defensive contributions greatly helped Watford maintain their first clean sheet in 12 matches.
Facing the Barcelona-loanee along the wing will be another Spaniard hoping to provide his team an edge.
Alonso will need to provide more defensive cover than he did against Bournemouth and improve on the 74% passing accuracy which was the lowest of all Chelsea players on Wednesday night.
His attacking potency remains a major positive for the Blues though and his four (all off-target) shots and three key passes against the Cherries hint at what he can produce – if he’s able to strike a balanced performance once more.
Playing with time
Watford’s draw against Stoke on Wednesday not only produced a game of few memorable moments of footballing skill, it also produced few moments of actual football. The ball was only in play for 43.3% of the time between the first and final whistle
While both teams were guilty of disrupting the flow of the game through any means possible, Watford have made a habit of this tactic recently. The Hornets have now been involved in four of the five games with the lowest amount of active play this season, all of which coming from the previous 15 fixtures.
With Chelsea expected to apply most of the attacking pressure in this game, the Blues will have to contend with Watford breaking any build-up in rhythm and momentum as well as being wary of the pace with which the Hornets can counter.
Leading the defence
Chelsea’s defensive display against the Cherries fell a long way short of the standards the Blues have set over the past two years. Bakayoko was the first to crumble as the anchoring midfielder threw away an impressive opening 20 minutes to produce one of his worst performances for the Blues yet.
With Rüdiger lacking consistency and Azpilicueta being caught out positionally throughout the match, a lack of clear leadership was at the heart of Chelsea’s downfall.
The loss of Christensen within the first half hour can be seen as a contributing factor to this and, with David Luiz still carrying an injury, Chelsea are likely to turn to Cahill to lead their defence tonight on the back of a truly dismal showing against the Cherries.
It was a lack of leadership in defence which at least partially caused José Mourinho’s latest Chelsea reign to end in failure and it too could signal problems for Conte’s side who have slowly lost their commanding presence on the pitch as this season has progressed.
Prediction: Watford 0-3 Chelsea
Despite Watford only conceding once from the two matches Gracia has been in charge, the Hornets are yet to show any real signs of promise for the immediate future.
Chelsea are likely to find Watford a hard team to break down. However, similar to Chelsea’s win over Brighton, one goal could lead too several more if their opponents are forced to chase the match.