Champions Chelsea sign off at home with Watford goalfest

Conte’s side made hard work of securing all three points before the trophy presentation

Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea celebrates scoring his side’s fourth goal in their Premier League win over Watford. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea celebrates scoring his side’s fourth goal in their Premier League win over Watford. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

Chelsea 4 Watford 3

Even Chelsea’s second string are plucking thrilling victories from Premier League opponents these days. This game was careering towards its conclusion with six goals shared and Antonio Conte fidgeting in frustration on the sidelines when Cesc Fàbregas, recently introduced from the bench, spat a shot from the edge of the area that found the corner of the net. There is simply no stopping this team at present, regardless of their selection.

Watford had tried their best, recovering a two-goal deficit at one point, but ended up reduced to 10 by Sebastian Prödl’s late red card for a pair of fouls and have now lost five games in succession. Time is surely ticking down on Walter Mazzarri’s spell as manager and, in truth, it felt rather damning that his side succumbed to a makeshift selection, even composed of champions. The locals’ attitude to the fixture had in part been summed up by Diego Costa, one of Chelsea’s substitutes, ambling into the press room at half-time to peruse the catering facilities, linger over a cheese board and eventually make off with a satsuma.

This had all the feel of a celebration from the outset. The visiting players had lined up to form a guard of honour prior to kick-off, the pyrotechnics singeing the air while Chelsea’s much changed lineup entered the arena. Seven of those who started here have only really enjoyed bit-part roles this term, with Kenedy’s only previous Premier League football of the campaign having actually come while on loan at Watford back in September. Yet they accepted the acclaim and, while more regular senior players took to the bench or put their feet up in the stand, those selected tore into the visitors with a sense of freedom. Willian, in particular, was like a man possessed, either scuttling at backtracking opponents or spraying glorious passes to either flank. The Brazilian has been champing at the bit for his opportunity.

Yet it was the elder statesman in their number who inevitably drew the focus. John Terry had not started a top-flight game since mid-September, his three cameos since having amounted to only 16 minutes out on the turf. This was Conte granting the captain the send-off he deserved after 22 years at this club and ahead of his release next month – he may have another home appearance to come against Sunderland on the final afternoon – and, for a while, Terry’s script seemed pre-written. Midway through the opening period he rose with Kurt Zouma to meet Willian’s corner, only for the ball to rebound down messily into the goal-mouth. While Watford dawdled, the former England defender spun inside the six-yard box to convert in off the post.

His elation was clear, a first league goal in 485 days ensuring he has now scored for 17 seasons in succession, but proved short-lived. The clock had crept along just 36 seconds when Daryl Janmaat swung over an optimistic cross from the left that Nathan Ake headed up and Terry, his radar awry with Nathaniel Chalobah at his back, nodded up and obligingly towards Étienne Capoue. The Frenchman looped his own header over a stranded Asmir Begovic and the visitors, with their first real involvement of any note, were level. Terry’s Chelsea career, while glittering, has never been straightforward. That madcap minute rather summed it all up.

Not that the concession deflated the hosts’ revamped lineup. The urgency was all Chelsea’s, the visitors labouring to contain their threat, with Heurelho Gomes doing well to thwart Eden Hazard at his feet and the Belgian, tormenting Adrian Mariappa, subsequently dragging an attempt wide of the near post. A corner would eventually re-establish the lead, Hazard’s delivery nodded out by Janmaat but only as far as César Azpilicueta, loitering on the edge of the area. His finish was crisp and low through a muddle of bodies, with Gomes unable to stretch his frame to deny the Spaniard a first goal of the season.

Other firsts would also yield rewards. Michy Batshuayi, scorer of the title-winning goal, had not previously begun a Premier League match but, early in the second half, he benefited from Ake’s neat collection of Kenedy’s deflected shot to tap into the empty net. That should have been the prelude to a stroll only for the rustiness across Chelsea’s back line to be exposed within minutes. A neatly constructed passing exchange should have been curtailed by Zouma only for the Frenchman to present Janmaat with possession. He ran at Ake before swerving infield and curling his shot into the far corner.

Conte’s agitation on the touchline was all too obvious, his mood hardly helped by Gomes’ excellent saves to deny Batshuayi and Azpilicueta. It darkened thereafter as Stefano Okaka, recently introduced, pounced on the latest pang of anxiety between Terry and Zouma to ram in the visitors’ equaliser, only for Fàbregas to have the last laugh and Watford, their hackles raised, to end up depleted.

(Guardian service)

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.