12:30 KO (BST), Saturday 21st October, Stamford Bridge (London, England), Sky Sports
Antonio Conte’s Chelsea have been on a roller-coaster of emotions so far this season. With wins away from home against Tottenham and Atlético Madrid, defeats against Burnley and Palace have served as a sobering reminder that consistency is as important as the ability to play well. Coming into this match with only a single win and two defeats from their last four games in all competitions, Chelsea’s credentials are once again under close scrutiny.
By contrast, Watford are a team in fine form with only a single defeat in the league this season. Their away record has been a surprising source of power with the Hornets taking three wins and a draw from their travels around the country. While Marco Silva has described their current position above Chelsea as ‘impossible’ to maintain, they’re there on merit and proved against Arsenal last weekend that they can outplay teams supposedly better than them.
Last Time Out
Chelsea 3 – 3 Roma (Champions League)
Two goals from Eden Hazard helped the Blues recover a point after Roma battled back at the Bridge. Antonio Conte chose to use David Luiz in midfield with N’Golo Kanté continuing to miss out through injury. However, Luiz’s erratic style saw him do more harm than good as he opened the scoring but soon after began giving away foul after needless foul.
Chelsea were unable to control the ball with the away side dominating possession but the Blues were devastating on the counter-attack with Hazard especially looking back to his best.
Watford 2 – 1 Arsenal (Premier League)
Troy Deeney’s comments after the game summed up the difference in fighting spirit between the two sides as Arsenal were unable to hold back a physical second-half comeback from Watford. While Arsene Wenger will point to the dubious nature of the penalty awarded to Richarlison after the winger’s hips appeared to be twisting to the ground before he was challenged, that should not hide the fact that the Hornets were deserving of their win. Despite Watford’s attacking players taking the majority of the headlines, a solid defensive display marshalled by the often clumsy Heurelho Gomes was possibly the biggest positive for the Hornets.
N’Golo Kanté (hamstring) and Danny Drinkwater (calf) are the only players who will be certain to miss the match against Watford, although Victor Moses (hamstring) is still fighting to be back in contention.
Meanwhile, Conte reported after the Champions League game that Tiemoué Bakayoko (groin) was not fully fit and David Luiz is suffering a calf injury. Judging by the latter’s reaction at being substituted just before the hour, though, Luiz should be fit and ready for selection this weekend.
Sebastian Prödl (hamstring), Younes Kaboul (leg), Craig Cathcart (knee), and Isaac Success (knee) all remain unavailable to face the Gunners and manager Marco Silva may decide to start a similar side after last weekend’s victory over Arsenal.
This would see Christian Kabasele continue to play in midfield as cover for the long-term injury of Nathaniel Chalobah (knee) although André Carrillo could return to play in the attacking right wing position.
Key Battle: Eden Hazard vs Kike Femenía
Eden Hazard has returned from injury looking as good as ever for the Blues. His displays last year have seen him nominated for the short-list for this year’s Ballon d’Or and his two goals against Roma capped a display that saw him bristling with attacking intent. Having only played his first full game last weekend in a largely anonymous game at Crystal Palace, fitness could be the only concern as he looks to recover from two games in a week with less match fitness than his colleagues.
Kiki Femenía will be the player standing in Hazard’s way on Watford’s right flank. After a series of impressive games this season, the Spanish right-back has displaced the experienced Daryl Janmaat from the first team in recent weeks. Having passed through both the Barcelona and Real Madrid teams on his route to the Premier League, Femenía is a player who is only just starting to realise his great potential. The fact that Marco Silva picked up the defender for free this summer from Alavés after a series of uninspired transfers makes his rise at Watford even more admirable.
A Heavy Burden
The additional games in Chelsea’s schedule already look to be taking a bite out of Antonio Conte’s side. While Alvaro Morata’s return to Premier League action will supplement their attack, the defensive midfield area looks to be Conte’s biggest concern. This area of the pitch appeared to be the only area well stocked after the transfer window closed yet the absence of N’Golo Kanté is being sorely felt by Chelsea. Although Danny Drinkwater’s ongoing injury has not helped the situation, Chelsea now face five games in a fifteen day period which could see their season unravelling further still.
To the End
Watford are a team who don’t know when they’re beaten. Having scored goals at the end of their last three matches, Silva’s team have picked up an additional five points from their late, late shows. While that is a remarkable achievement within itself, the contrast to last season is startling as Walter Mazzarri’s side often looked devoid of any fighting spirit.
A large part of this stems from the centre of the pitch with Abdoulaye Doucouré and Tom Cleverley in particular both full of energy and doggedness in closing down space for their team during the last three games.
Prediction: Chelsea 2 – 2 Watford
The form of both teams suggests the Blues could be in line for another upset this weekend in a fixture which, prior to the season kicking off, many would’ve assumed to be a home-banker. Chelsea suffered against Arsenal when they last returned from Champions League action and Watford will fancy their chances of snatching an away victory heading into this match. For everything which Chelsea currently lack, mental resilience isn’t one of the characteristics to make this list and they should come away with a draw in what looks likely to be an entertaining clash.
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