Chelsea’s Premier League title celebrations began on Monday night with a 4-3 victory against Watford at Stamford Bridge in a match that was far more entertaining than was expected.
With Chelsea having one eye focused on the FA Cup Final in less than two weeks’ time and Watford safe from the threat of relegation, no one could fault the sides for playing what would amount to a glorified friendly.
If it was a glorified friendly, it certainly wasn’t a dull, uninteresting one, as both sides were fully committed and looking for a positive result.
You’d expect no less, though, from a Chelsea side managed by Antonio Conte. Despite making nine changes to the side that clinched the title against West Brom, there was no way that the Chelsea boss was going to tolerate anything less than a full effort from his fringe players.
Watford gave the champions a guard of honour at the start of the match, and by the end of the first minute, the crowd serenaded Conte with a chorus of “Antonio, Antonio” echoing from the stands.
Understandably, it took a bit of time for the hosts to settle, and it wasn’t until midway through the first half that Chelsea finally found a breakthrough.
It was almost scripted, really. John Terry, given a start for this match, reacted quickest to a ball that deflected off his back from Kurt Zouma’s header, and swiped the ball in off the inside of the post to give Chelsea the lead.
But just as quickly as the football gods giveth, they taketh away. Just two minutes later, Nathan Ake’s initial headed clearance came down to Terry at the edge of the area, but Terry’s attempted header looped straight up into the air, and Etienne Capoue was on hand to guide a header past the stranded Asmir Begovic.
The match continued to get a bit stranger, as Chelsea took the lead again through a much more unlikely source. After a Chelsea corner, the ball was cleared to Cesar Azpilicueta on the edge of the penalty area, and his drilled shot evaded bodies and found its way into the bottom corner beyond the reach of the diving Heurelho Gomes.
Michy Batshuayi, scorer of the goal that clinched the title last Friday, looked to have sealed another victory for Chelsea with his tap-in just after the restart. This time, Watford failed to close down Kenedy on the edge of the area, and his scuffed shot was controlled by Nathan Ake who rolled it across goal for Batshuayi to tap into the empty net.
But once again, Watford hit back almost immediately. This time, Daryl Janmaat intercepted a loose pass from Zouma and charged at the Chelsea goal. Doing his best Messi impersonation, Janmaat jinked into the penalty area, cut inside Ake, and curled the ball into the bottom corner beyond Asmir Begovic.
That goal seemed to stun Chelsea and a side that had looked so confident and comfortable began to show some nerves.
Watford took full advantage of those nerves on 74 minutes when Zouma and Terry failed to head clear a cross from the left and Stefano Okaka thumped the ball into the back of the net to bring the Hornets level.
But Chelsea had one last card to play, and the substitute Cesc Fabregas gave the Blues the winning goal on 88 minutes. Willian froze the defence with a little step-over before sliding the ball across the penalty area to Fabregas in space. The Spaniard’s shot into the ground spun up and into the back of the net to give Chelsea a lead that they would not surrender this time.
A late sending off for Sebastian Prodl led to a few fireworks between the players in stoppage time before the real fireworks and the ticker tape fell after the final whistle.
Next week, Chelsea will receive the trophy after their final match against Sunderland, but will also have a chance for their 30th victory of the season, which would be a new Premier League record for wins in season.