Eden Hazard leads the line as Chelsea edge Watford
Hazard reaches century as Sarri’s team return to winning ways at Vicarage Road
Eden Hazard scores the opener for Chelsea at Vicarage Road. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Watford 1 Chelsea 2
A match of constant action and frequent error was decided by two goals from its outstanding performer, Eden Hazard often floating around the fringes of the game but always at the very heart of Chelsea’s finest attacking endeavours. He scored his 100th goal for the club in first-half stoppage time, set off on the path to his second century with a penalty in the 58th minute, and had his teammates been able to shoot as precisely as the Belgian he might have had a hat-trick of assists as well.
For all his excellence Hazard was also guilty of the game’s most glaring miss, letting César Azpilicueta’s driven cross pass through his legs as he attempted a clever flick when any kind of contact would have given his side a first-half lead. But it seems churlish to criticise a player who despite his team’s unconvincing recent form has now claimed five assists and three goals in his last six league matches.
Having lost two of those, Chelsea were a little tentative at the start, though Pedro curled a shot narrowly wide from outside the area after three minutes. The first decent chance they created was for the wrong side, Kepa Arrizabalaga casually side-footing a pass straight to Gerard Deulofeu in the ninth minute. Facing away from goal when he got it under control, the Spaniard attempted to backheel to Troy Deeney and succeeded only in skewing it to Antonio Rüdiger. Thirty seconds later the visitors might have taken the lead.
Play moved briskly upfield, Hazard released Willian and the Brazilian went past Ben Foster, who had advanced from his line in search of the ball before stopping when he realised he would be beaten to it, only to shoot against the outside of the post from an acute angle. Watford’s Christian Kabasele also collided with the post as he attempted to ensure the ball did not roll the wrong side of it, sustaining in the process an injury that was to end his evening prematurely.
A combination of Arsenal’s failure to beat Brighton and Manchester United’s recent resurgence made this game an opportunity for Chelsea both to open up a small gap over the Gunners and to keep Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side at a comfortable distance. But though their approach play was reasonable there was too much imprecision to their first-half play for them to regularly penetrate the rejigged home back line.
So while Chelsea dominated possession, it was Watford who had the better first-half chances. Abdoulaye Doucouré played a smart one-two with Deulofeu before cutting inside and shooting into Jorginho, then the French midfielder shot wide after being set up by Roberto Pereyra, and Deulofeu intercepted Jorginho’s pass before setting up Deeney, whose shot flew straight into David Luiz.
It took until first-half stoppage time for the first shot on target, whereupon two goals were scored in three minutes. First Étienne Capoue, whose brilliant tackle on Pedro a few minutes earlier had denied Chelsea a goalscoring chance and led to the Spaniard limping off, gave the ball away in midfield. Mateo Kovacic took control, played in Hazard, who rounded Foster before passing into the net.
A minute later Watford might have equalised after Deeney’s header set up Doucouré for a shot that was saved. From the corner Holebas lifted the ball to the edge of the area, and Roberto Pereyra rifled a volley into the bottom corner.
The second half started at the same wild pace at which the first had ended, even if the stream of goals dried up for a while. The referee perhaps had something to do with that, turning his back on both Deeney and Hazard as they sat on the ground demanding free-kicks and ignoring Deulofeu’s pleas for a penalty after he took on David Luiz, who was repeatedly troubled by the Watford forward’s pace, before going down in the penalty area.
Four minutes later Martin Atkinson was pointing to the spot at the other end, after Jorginho lifted an excellent pass over the defence and into Hazard’s path and Foster obviously decided that having already been rounded twice he was not going to let it happen again. The challenge was not entirely dissimilar to the one committed by David Luiz, but the foul was considerably clearer. From the penalty spot Hazard sent Foster the wrong way once again.