In their first game as Premier League Champions, Chelsea emerged victorious after a hard fought battle against Watford at Stamford Bridge
It was a lively 95 minutes and terrible defending from both sides ensured that those Chelsea fans present at Stamford Bridge, certainly got their money’s worth. The game was finally put to rest in the 88th minute by Cesc Fabregas, before Sebastian Prodl got himself sent off.
It was a heavily rotated Chelsea side, with 9 changes being made to the side that clinched the title last week. John Terry, Kurt Zouma, Nathan Ake, Nathaniel Chalobah, Michy Batshuayi and even Kenedy, who spent the first half of the season at Watford, all received the guard of honor.
John Terry opened the scoring in the 22nd minute and burst into tears, having scored what very well might have been his last goal in Chelsea colors. 90 seconds later, the Englishman’s error on the opposite end of the pitch allowed Etienne Capoue to equalise for Watford.
Cesar Azpilicueta would send Chelsea up for the second time in the first half, latching onto a loose ball at the edge of the area and letting one fly past a helpless Heurelho Gomes, to score his first Premier League goal of the season and the Blues’ second of the night.
Chelsea would take the lead into the second half where 4 minutes into the restart, Michy Batshuayi would get in on the action and give Chelsea a 2 goal advantage. However, the Hornets weren’t done yet as Daryl Janmaat channeled his inner Lionel Messi and dribbled past 3 Chelsea defenders before slotting it past Asmir Begovic to bring the visitors back in the game.
Mazzarri would make something of an inspired substitution in the 71st minute, bringing on Stefano Okaka for M’baye Niang and the big Italian, with only his third touch of the game, capitalised on some miscommunication amongst the Chelsea defence to score Watford’s third.
After a little more back and forth, Conte would call upon the services of one Francesc Fabregas Soler in the 79th minute and that proved to be his best decision of the night. The former Barcelona midfielder scored the winner in the 88th minute, to ensure that Chelsea began their reign as Champions Of England on a positive note.
Azpilicueta was deployed in a more advanced right wingback role ahead of Victor Moses and put in yet another typically assured and reliable shift. He scored Chelsea’s second goal in the 36th minute, a right footed finish from distance, which was also his first League goal this season.
Besides his goal, he was one of Chelsea’s most influential players going forward, with 16 passes in the attacking third. The Spaniard completed 2 take-ons and recovered the ball 3 times and put in 5 successful tackles.
Having played every single minute of this Premier League season and contributed immensely to Chelsea’s cause, the former Marseille finally got some well deserved recognition by being nominated for the Premier League Fans Player Of The Year award.
Since arriving at the club, he has played at every position across Chelsea’s defence and the 27-year-old has gotten better and better with every game. Antonio Conte lauded his work ethic after the game, saying that Azpilicueta would play in goal if he asked him to – a testament to the player’s commitment.
Arguably Chelsea’s best player on the night. It was Willian’s first start in the Premier League since Chelsea’s 1-2 victory against Stoke City and he used these valuable minutes to remind Antonio Conte of what he could do when given the opportunity.
He was at the focal point of nearly every major Chelsea move going forward and had contributed to his side in defence as well. His 23 passes in the attacking third was only matched by Eden Hazard and created a total of 7 chances through the game and assisted Fabregas’ winner.
He completed 5 take-ons in the game and recovered possession for Chelsea 15 times. The closest Chelsea player to match this statistic was Nathan Ake, who had 7. Barring a goal, the Brazilian gave everything he possibly could from the start of the game till the finish and was awarded with The Man Of The Match for his efforts.
With the scores at 3-3, the Spaniard was brought on in place of Nathaniel Chalobah in the 79th minute in a bid to add some more creativity to Chelsea’s midfield and try to churn out a victory and that is exactly what Cesc Fabregas did 9 minutes after his introduction.
He took a mere 18 touches in the time that he was on, but he owned midfield the minute after he stepped onto the field. In the 88th minute, he scored Chelsea’s fourth goal after latching onto a Willian cross with a first time shot, which curled past Heurelho Gomes into the bottom corner.
That goal, which was his 5th goal of the season, sent the Stamford Bridge into a frenzy and it ultimately proved to be enough to give Chelsea their 29th victory of the season. It was yet another assured, game changing performance from the 30-year-old after coming off the bench and one that once again displayed his importance to the Chelsea squad.
His first Chelsea start in over a year, having last started a Premier League game for the Blues against Aston Villa while Guus Hiddink was still in charge. He was sent out on loan to Watford in the summer in a bid to get more experience, but that was cut short in January.
Injuries and a general lack of first team opportunities at Watford and Chelsea haven’t made it any easier on the Brazilian and as a result, the 21-year-old has made only 3 appearances this entire season, playing a total of 109 minutes.
So he could be forgiven to putting in a disappointing shift, given that he is only just returning from a season of injury and was deployed in an unfamiliar left wing-back position. He looked a bit out of sorts throughout the game and despite finding himself in good spaces, could never really make the most of the ball at his feat.
This performance would have done little to nothing to impress Antonio Conte but at only 21, the Brazilian has enough time to impress the Italian and will likely still be in Chelsea’s plan for the future. It will be interesting to see, whether his time spent at Chelsea over the past 5 months will convince them to keep him at the club, or send him out on loan in the summer.
Could produce absolutely nothing of importance going forward for the visitors going forward and was brought off by Mazzarri in the 71st minute for Stefano Okaka, who made an instant impact. Wasn’t helped by the fact that he was completely isolated upfront.
With John Terry breathing down his neck, the 22-year-old tried to get into deeper positions to receive the ball, but to No avail. Lost all of his 6 aerial duels, attempted 1 unsuccessful tackle, took 1 shot at goal which was off target and when subbed off, he headed straight for the showers.
In 15 Premier League games for the Hornets since arriving on a 6-month loan deal in January, the Frenchman has scored 2 goals, registered 2 assists and gotten 2 yellow cards to his name. His last goal came in April, and it is yet to be seen whether Watford will choose to give him a contract, something that doesn’t look likely.
Analysis Of Impact
Staking Claim To A Starting XI Berth
Antonio Conte made a number of changes to the starting XI in a bid to give some youngsters and fringe players more game time. In total, he made 9 changes to the side that secured the title at the Hawthorns last week, with only Cesar Azpilicueta and Eden Hazard holding on to their place.
While the likes of Zouma, Terry, Batshuayi and Chalobah put in reasonably good shifts, Conte would have certainly have kept an eye on Ake, Willian and Fabregas, all of whom will be vying for starting spots against Arsenal in the final of the FA Cup next week.
Willian and Fabregas will certainly give Conte a selection headache with their match winning performances, while Ake also has a chance to feature, after putting in an assured performance in the semi-final against Tottenham Hotspurs. We can expect a similar rotation against Sunderland as Conte looks to give everyone else a chance to stake their claim for the starting spot in the final whilst also resting some key players.