Watford have been a lucky omen for Chelsea in the FA cup. Three of the last five times we have been drawn to face them we have gone on to lift the trophy. Lets hope that this is the case in this season’s tournament. We are at least into the fourth round after dispatching the Hornets by three goals to nil.
After the disaster of new years day, we needed to re group and get back to winning ways, and that happened here, but not in as convincing a manor as the score line suggests. Well, not in the first half anyway.
Mourinho as expected made significant changes to the starting line up. He started with the usual 4-2-3-1 shape. Cech lined up in goal, Azpilicueta switched from left to right back to accommodate Felipe Luis, and Zouma came in next to Cahill at centre back. Mikel and Ramires were in the deep midfield positions, with Schurrle, Oscar, and Remy the three behind Drogba. Remy playing wide, interchanged wings with Schurrle during the first half. It was a half that did little to lift the spirits of the Chelsea support. Watford lined up in an ultra defensive 5-4-1. Under the stewardship of ex Chelsea midfielder Slavisa Jokanovic, they were set out to frustrate and make the most of counter attacking opportunities. To give credit to him and his side, his tactics worked well in the first forty-five. Watford succeeded in nullifying Chelsea as an attacking force. We were forced to play sideways for most of the half. With Drogba as our only striker, the three Watford centre backs could afford to let one of their number push out from the backline to pick up Oscar when he occupied areas between their defence and midfield. This meant he could not find areas in the attacking third in which to operate. Remy and Schurrle also found the same problem when drifting in field, whilst their wingers, Forestieri and Ighalo manfully tracked both of our full backs.
A free kick in the left channel provided our first chance, Schurrle whipping a ball in which Cahill stretched to head over.
Whilst not having much of the ball, Watford fired a couple of warning shots across our bows, Troy Deeney hitting straight down Cech’s throat from 20 yards.
Another set piece, this time an in-swinging corner from Luis was glanced across the face of the goal by Cahill.
Our possession was mainly deep, around halfway and along the width of the Stamford Bridge playing surface as Watford defended diligently. Ramires and Mikel weren’t pressed in deep areas, so the ball moved between those two and our back four. Our attacking threat from there was balls up to Drogba, or diagonals in behind, but neither were particularly fruitful.
Watford carved out more goal scoring chances in the first half. Forestieri hit a volley that deflected wide after Schurrle lost the ball on the left, and Ighalo glanced a header across the face.
Our best chance in a lacklustre first period was courtesy of a Drogba header well saved by Bond in the Watford goal. Azpilicueta found Remy down the right, he beat the full back and crossed well for Drogba at the near post, but Bond dived smartly to his left to palm away.
We did appear to half a legitimate penalty shout, as Oscar was put through, both the Watford keeper and centre back charging towards him, the defender won the ball, but the keeper wiped Oscar out. He was down for a while having treatment, but no penalty was forthcoming.
Half time brought change, and more than likely a kick up the backside from Mourinho, probably not for the first time this week. Oscar and Schurrle departed, replaced by Costa and Willian, and with them, a switch to 4-4-2.
This seemed to galvanise the team. Costa managed to drop off and link with the midfield better than anyone had in the first half. This was also aided by Mourinho’s tactical change, as we now had Willian and Remy helping inside, and when Costa or Drogba came deep, there was still another centre forward behind for the Watford backline to deal with.
Watford had the best chance of the early exchanges in the second half though. Deeney pulled wide to the right and cut in, his low shot across goal was heading wide, but was deflected towards the far corner, and Cech stretched to save well with his foot.
Chelsea though, had a lot more cutting edge in the second half. Ramires won a tackle on half way and surged forward, finding Drogba in the left channel, he held of defenders to cut in and shoot low at the near post, but Bond saved.
On 58 minutes, the opening goal came. Mikel found Luis down the left, Costa had pulled wide and Luis used him, this had occupied a full back, and both Remy and Willian had come into the middle of the pitch, and Watford all of a sudden couldn’t pick everyone up. Costa found Remy, his pass deflected, but fell perfectly for Willian, who smashed a right footer into the right hand top corner. This was like a more central version of his cracker away at Norwich last season. As Mourinho had endeavoured with this changed of formation, Watford couldn’t cope with so many attacking options to pick up around the box.
Remy was put in behind shortly after, book ending some good build up, but couldn’t get a shot away.
Watford were still in this though, and Luis gave the ball away and Deeney again forced Cech into a good save, tipping his dipping effort over the bar.
It wasn’t long before we scored our second though. Drogba and Costa had been linking up very well, and that was the making of our second. Willan passed inside to Costa on the right hand edge of the area; he played a lovely one-two with Drogba, who played Costa back in after holding the ball up brilliantly. Costa hit a powerful first time effort blocked by Cathcart, but it fell perfectly for Remy to fire a delightful right foot volley first time into the top right hand corner. Two nil, and two brilliant goals.
Jokanovic’s reluctance to change formation effectively rendered this game over. He had set his stool out, and while in the first half these tactics looked like getting Watford something from the match, they were now dead and buried.
The third really made sure, and again, it was a very well worked goal. Willian took a corner short to Drogba, and got it back again, finding Azpilicueta on the edge of the box who swung the ball in for Zouma to head a looping effort over the keeper into the net.
Another good performance from Zouma, yet to put a foot wrong when asked to step in, and this was a deserved goal for his efforts.
While the first half was poor, and lacked a cutting edge from Chelsea, the second was much better. Costa and Willian making the difference with their tempo and link play. They both had a hand in two of the goals, and Mourinho must also take praise for implementing the tactical change that altered the course of the match.
Chelsea 4-2-3-1 (4-4-2 after half time subs, 4-3-3 after Ake.)
Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Zouma, Luis;
Mikel, Ramires; Remy, Oscar, (Costa 45), Schurrle, (Willian 45);
Drogba, (Ake 80).
Bond; Paredes, Hoban, Cathcart, Angella, Pudil;
Ighalo, (Vydra 64), Munari, Toszer, (Abdi), Forestieri;
Referee: Kevin Friend