Walter Mazzarri remains without a win as Watford manager after suffering an agonising defeat in his first home game in charge against Chelsea, who scored two late goals to cancel out Etienne Capoue’s opener to maintain their 100% start to the season and inflict a first loss of the season on the hosts.
In a half of few clear-cut openings, the early exchanges were encouraging for Watford who demonstrated their ability to cause some problems for a Chelsea back-four devoid of pace. Jose Holebas had Watford’s first real opening when he latched on to Miguel Britos’ inviting pass and fired at Thibaut Courtois.
On the other flank, Nordin Amrabat – who seems to have given his Watford career a new lease of life – looks a natural at right-wing back and caused a headache for Cesar Azpilicueta in the opening 45 minutes. His link up play with Adlene Guedioura, another fighting for his future at the club, was encouraging. Watford’s lack of pace was an issue that the club never really addressed last season but Amrabat’s surging runs nearly provided the ideal opening to the game. Odion Ighalo, who began the move by breaking up a Chelsea attack, connected on the end of a fizzing cross although he could only divert over the crossbar. In Watford’s next attack, both Amrabat and Guedioura were again at the heart of it as the latter blasted over after some neat build-up play.
It was a half not without its scares though. Watford did extraordinarily well to suffocate Chelsea’s play in the midfield, especially in keeping Oscar quiet, which contributed to a solid defensive display but as the half wore on, Antonio Conte’s side began to grow with it. Watford were left off, not once but twice, when first two Chelsea players were allowed to peel off the back of Miguel Britos at a corner and then Diego Costa was given the freedom of the box but was adjudged to be offside.
Chelsea continued to dominate possession without creating a great deal and had two good openings on the stroke of half-time to break the deadlock. Both opportunities presented themselves following lapses in concentration which would have disappointed the Watford head coach, but the hosts emerged unscathed. Nemanja Matic, playing in a more advanced role in Conte’s 4-1-4-1 tried to feed Costa and a routine stop for Heurelho Gomes soon caused problems when the Brazilian failed to claim. It was an almighty scare and confirmation of how to potentially undo a half of disciplined defending.
On the stroke of half time, with the fourth official signalling a minute to be added on, Amrabat, arguably Watford’s best player in the first half, was harshly penalised for a foul on Eden Hazard which presented the Belgium with the ideal opportunity to hand Chelsea the lead. Thankfully for Watford, the last chance of the first period, was a routine stop for Gomes who this time clung on.
Watford began the second half with the same resoluteness and organisation that has typified the way Mazzarri has set his side up in the first two games of the season. Both sides began the half in much the same fashion without carving out any real chances.
That was until the 56th minute when Capoue found himself in plenty of space and lashed home a left-footed volley for his second goal in as many games following an Guedioura cross. It was the perfect antidote to Chelsea’s passing game and thrust the game into life with the clearest opening either side had mustered. For Capoue it was his second in as many games and was finished with typical aplomb, leaving Courtois with no chance in the visitors’ goal.
But that marked the beginning of the challenge that would face Watford in the form of a Chelsea onslaught. The hosts were largely content to sit and soak up the pressure but concern was setting in when it became clear that Watford were playing firmly in their own half. The hosts were given a let off when Ivanovic sneaked in and behind and Gomes came wandering out of his goal only for Valon Behrami to deflect the cross just over his own bar.
With the visitors growing more and more frustrated, substitutions would change the course of this one as Chelsea introduced Michy Batshuayi and Cesc Fabregas within the space of a few minutes of each other. Watford were dealt the most untimely of blows when Eden Hazard’s innocuous shot was inadvertently parried to the feet of Batshuayi who gobbled up the chance for his first Chelsea goal. It all came from a poor throw from Amrabat, of all people.
That shifted the whole momentum of the game with the fans, growing restless but doing their bit, roaring on the Watford players, but the hosts would have a well-earned point snatched from their grasp late on.
Just like Chelsea did to West Ham on Monday night, it was another late Costa goal that sealed a fortuitous three points for the visitors. Fabregas, whose Chelsea future has been called into question in recent weeks, split the Watford back-line with one pass and Costa latched onto the ball to finish beyond Gomes. It was classic Costa.
Watford barely threatened for the remainder of the game, clearly stunned by Chelsea’s late heroics. It was a cruel lesson for Mazzarri in English football that denied him another point and ended his unbeaten start to life at Vicarage Road.
The hosts will have to lift themselves for the visit of Gillingham on Tuesday night, but this one left a sour taste in the mouth as Watford left empty handed despite a brave display.
Watford: Gomes, Cathcart, Prodl, Britos, Amrabat, Guedioura, Behrami, Capoue, Holebas, Ighalo, Deeney
Chelsea: Courtois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Kante, Pedro, Oscar, Matic, Hazard, Costa