Match Report: Watford 1-2 Chelsea
By Kevin Affleck
The game against Norwich City on Friday night just increased in magnitude after the team's winless start to the season continued at home to Chelsea.
Games against teams of the calibre of Frank Lampard's side, who deservedly won here with goals from Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic at the start of each half, aren't going to shape the outcome of the season so that puts plenty of importance on the match at Carrow Road between the bottom two.
There was a sign, however small, that the luck might be starting to turn and they can at least go to East Anglia with something to cling to: a first home goal since the Arsenal game and a VAR decision that finally, thank the lord, went their way. The crowd also by and large stuck with the team and their unwavering support is going to be vital in the remaining 27 games.
There was also a bit of fire in the belly, Craig Dawson thundering into a challenge with Emerson Palmieri that should never have been deemed a foul let alone a yellow card while Gerard Deulofeu picked a fight with Jorginho. The team are going to need that fighting spirit, and plenty more of it, if they are going to drag themselves away from danger. It's going to need all hands to the pump.
Given the struggles in front of goal and the nature of the game-plan, the Hornets needed to keep things tight for as long as possible and ensure it wasn't going to take several goals for them to get a positive result. That notion went out of the window after just five minutes. It was perhaps going to take something special to get a through a defence that hadn't been breached at home in the league for just over four hours and Jorginho provided. The Brazilian picked out the arcing run of Abraham with a sublime pass that found the gap between Craig Cathcart and Dawson. His right foot could open cans of food let alone defence.
Abraham was not about to spurn a gift like that and he lifted the ball over the over the on-rushing Ben Foster. Foster was furious at the space Abraham had found but sometimes you just have to doff your hat to the quality of the pass.
Chelsea were now in their stride, buzzing from the confidence of that nerve-settling early goal and they popped the ball around with real purpose and precision. It didn't help that Craig Cathcart had to go after so early, although the captain bravely soldiered on for eight minutes until he could take no more. In his absence, Foster had to have his wits about him, saving from Abraham, Pulisic and then, right at the end of the half, the pick of the bunch to tip a long-ranger from Mason Mount onto the underside of the bar. The former England 'keeper has been right back to his best in the last two matches.
Quique Sánchez Flores need to alter the dynamic of this one and he did so by switching from a 5-2-2-1 to 5-3-2. It made a noticeable difference and the team were definitely more on the front foot. Roared on by a deafening rendition of Elton John's Taylor made army, the team found its feet and started to throw the odd punch. Roberto Pereyra let fly with one on the half-turn and then Deulofeu fizzed one past the far post with his left foot. It was much more like it.
The front-foot approach continued immediately after the break, with Fikayo Tomori required to pull off a last-ditch tackle to prevent Andre Gray really testing Kepa Arrizabalaga from 12 yards. You hoped that might be the start of a second-half fight-back, the moment to light the blue touch paper, but Chelsea had a bit too much going forward for that to be the case.
Just minutes after Foster clawed one away from Mount, Chelsea killed the game with a second from Pulisic who had the easiest task of tucking away a centre from Abraham. And that it was it really, game over ten minutes of the second half.
There was a flicker of a fightback when VAR deemed Jorginho had tripped Deulofeu in the box on 80 minutes. After an extraordinary wait, the spot-kick was awarded and Deulofeu grabbed the ball and sent Arrizabalaga the wrong way. The fact he was adamant he was taking it, despite the presence of Pereyra on the field, was another positive to take and showed his confidence levels are getting back to where they need to be.
The Hornets ended the match in the ascendancy, at least having a go and throwing the cutlery at Chelsea if not the kitchen sink. They almost did it in the most unlikely circumstances, Foster coming within a whisker of finding the bottom corner with a header. It would have capped an extraordinary performance from the 'keeper.
It wasn't to be but there was just about enough to cling to go into Friday's game with some hope, some optimism. It's now time to turn things around.
HORNETS: Foster; Janmaat (Femenía 75), Kabasele, Dawson, Cathcart (Mariappa 20), Holebas; Doucouré, Chalobah (Hughes 67); Pereyra, Deulofeu; Gray.
Subs not used: Gomes, Hughes, Success, Holebas, Foulquier