The first match of Guus Hiddinks second spell at Chelsea took a similar pattern to most of the matches we have witnessed this season that brought a premature end to the second Chelsea spell of Jose Mourinho. The script was a familiar one to most Chelsea fans that have watched the side this season. Over 60% possession, periods of good play without capitalising on the chances created, failure to kill the match when on top, followed by defensive mistakes being punished to ensure that we don’t take three points from the fixture. The alternative twist today was that after coming from behind we had an excellent opportunity to complete the comeback and seal all three points from the penalty spot. Although it would have been deviating from the script had we taken such a chance. Oscar stuck to it word for word by inadvertently slipping and sending his penalty to the upper reaches of the Matthew Harding lower.
It had been a promising start from Chelsea. Hiddink stuck to what would most likely have been the eleven fielded by Mourinho in the usual 4-2-3-1 shape. Cahill and Terry the preferred centre back pairing, with Fabregas and Matic in front of them in midfield. Hazard returned to the bench after injury. The opening fifteen minutes of the match saw Chelsea putting Watford under constant pressure, Watford able to only clear straight back to us as we dominated possession. Ivanovic and Willian were able to put some dangerous crosses in from the right flank in this period, and in general our play had a good tempo and urgency to it. Fabregas played a good first time ball over for Costa, but Gomes came to smother. We couldn’t finish any of our chances when we were clearly on top in this period though.
Watford played 4-4-2 and in a similar vein to Bournemouth, they played with their defensive backline and midfield four quite close together, this made it extremely hard to get between their lines and forced us to have possession quite deep, and play across the width of the pitch. Their two strikers, Ighalo and Deeney were also key to their defensive tactics as when we had the ball they both dropped deep to pick up on our midfield, this allowed their own midfielders to remain in shape and not be pulled further away from their defence. This meant that Matic and Fabregas saw large amounts of the ball, but options only seemed to be square. Occasionally balls went straight into Costa from here, but with Watford defenders so tight it was hard to link up with the midfield.
As we struggled to break down Watford, they became more of a threat themselves, and from twenty minutes in through till half time, they managed to conjure some decent scoring opportunities. Like our attacks, a lot of them were from the flanks. Capoue and Watson dropped deep to pick the ball up from their back line through the middle, and with a man less in central midfield, they went wide, particularly down the left to the impressive Jurado, Holebas supporting him from left back helped to cause Ivanovic and Willian some problems down that side, Willian having to repeatedly track back, but on a few occasions after tracking Holebas until he reached Ivanovic, he then left Ivanovic slightly isolated by passing him on. Ivanovic couldn’t live with his pace, but he coped slightly better against Jurado.
Ighalo got between both our centre backs from a Deeney knock down, forcing Courtois into action at his near post. Not long after that a partially cleared Watford corner was volleyed into the ground and over our advancing backline, Ighalo had read it perfectly and managed to somehow stay onside and get on the end of it, but pulled his shot wide on the turn. He had a third chance of the half when he headed a right wing cross-just wide.
In a lively last third of the half the deadlock was broken at both ends. A succession of Chelsea corners had been won down the right flank, and Willians deliveries in front of the Shed end had been good. Another out swinger was met by Cahill, whose downward header was met on the turn by Costa who put his left foot through it and we were ahead.
More good play down the right led to a nice one-two between Ivanovic and Fabregas, the formers low cross was fired over by Oscar from six yards at the near post. It was that sort of quick ball movement that would be required to net from open play.
But ten minutes after going ahead, we were pegged back in the 42nd minute. It was another corner that made it, as the ball came down in the box, Matic inexplicably handled, possibly distracted by the player jumping in front of him. Watching live in the stadium it looked innocuous, but replays appeared to show it to be deliberate. Deeney rolled the equaliser down the middle from the spot.
Possibly our best move of the half came in added time, with Matic finding Oscar in some rare space between the lines with an excellent pass, he played it wide to the overlapping Azpilicueta on the left, but his low cross was just wide of the far post.
Mikel replaced Fabregas at half time. Hiddink looking for more solidarity from the Nigerian.
We started the second half in promising fashion, as we had the first, but again, it didn’t last long enough and again, we did not capitalise. Some nice high tempo play allowed for the ball to be worked wide and crosses delivered, but to no avail.
56 minutes in Ighalo put Watford ahead, he cut in from the left, Ivanovic and Cahill backed off when pressure was required, and his shot deflected off Ivanovic and in past Courtois. This was the script we have become used to watching being played out.
After going behind Hiddink made a tactical change, moving Oscar upfront next to Costa. Possibly he hoped this would pull Watford’s midfield out further towards Matic and Mikel and create some more space, but it didn’t really have that effect, the retreating Watford strikers helped them retain their defensive shape.
Watford sat deep with their lines close and we played sideways more and more as a consequence. We had been unable to win the ball and attack quickly in transition, which would have allowed us to use the space before Watford were set in position. Maybe this was hard to do as for long periods Watford didn’t commit too many players to attacks, as they were already sitting deep, and simply returning the ball to us with their clearances.
Mikel had a good half, moving the ball well and doing what was asked of him defensively. Willian had been his usual creative self, and in what was a rare lapse from the Watford centre backs, he played an excellent through ball past their defence to find Costa, who dispatched to level the score. It was an attack not in keeping with the rest we had mustered in the half, but the sort of vision you require in the final third to break teams down. Hazard entered the Frey for Pedro as we now pushed for a winner. Our attacks were again side-to-side though, and credit has to be given to Watford for their resolute defending from front to back. Hazard was forcing Watford to double up down their right, Behrami, who had replaced Abdi was pinned back, and Hazrd jinked across the edge of the area with ten minutes to go, he was floored, penalty. Oscar stepped up, but his standing foot gave way before impact, and the ball ballooned over.
The last ten minutes were stretched, both teams looking to nick it, Ighalo and Deeney both had shots blocked after counter attacks, Mikel fired wide from the edge of the area after consistent pressure. No outcome from here would have been a surprise, but the four minutes added time passed with no further goals. 2-2 it finished.
Hiddink obviously needs a few weeks to properly get his ideas across to the team, and maybe longer to implement them fully on the pitch, but this proved nothing other than to underline the ridiculousness of Mourinho’s dismissal, as there was no discernable difference to any other of our matches in which we have dropped points this season.
Costa 32, 65,
4-2-3-1, (4-4-2 from 57)
Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry©, Azpilicueta;
Fabregas, (Mikel45). Matic; Willian, Oscar, Pedro, (Hazard 75);
Deeney 42, (Pen)
Gomes;Nyom, Cathcart, Britos, Holebas;
Abdi, (Behrami 69), Capoue, Watson, Jurado, (Anya 73),
Ighalo, Deeney, (Guedioura 93).