This Saturday, Chelsea return to action Stamford Bridge against Watford. Jack analyses our opposition, and tells us which of the Hornets to watch out for.
Last season’s FA Cup finalists currently sit 17th in the Premier League table after an absolutely horrendous start which saw manager Javi Gracia lose his job. The reappointment of Quique Sánchez Flores did little more to steady the ship and on the 6th December, former Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson was given the reigns until the end of the season. Indeed, after 15 games “The Hornets” found themselves plugged deep in trouble at the very base of the table having collected just eight points from their opening 15 fixtures.
Since then they’ve taken on the form of a solid mid-table side but they’re certainly not safe from relegation. In fact, Chelsea’s loss at the hands of West Ham United has left them in a very bad position in the relegation battle, meaning leaving Stamford Bridge empty-handed is not an option for them.
Watford have secured just four points from their last six games but it is worth noting that three of these were in the demolition of Liverpool before the lockdown. This astonishing result saw Watford proceeded to thrash the previously-unbeaten league leaders 3-0 at Vicarage Road in what many would see as an iconic night of Premier League football.
In their last outing, Watford were comfortably dispatched by a confident Southampton side featuring an in-form Danny Ings.
How do they set up?
Typically, Watford set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and in a game like this we will almost certainly see them in a more defensive variation in order to soak up as much pressure as possible. We already saw how much Chelsea struggled to break down any side which employs a low-block. Therefore, it seems likely that Watford will try and emulate this and strangle the game to a point where they can then be more adventurous and strike when Chelsea’s focus drifts. Whilst they are certainly capable of pressing with their front-three, Pearson will know that this falls into Chelsea’s hands and will allow them to quickly transition the ball up the pitch. Upon losing it, expect this Watford side to track back quickly in order to protect their backline as much as possible.
When defending, a 4-4-2 is evident in their low block with the wingers tracking back. This leaves Deeney and Doucouré to win balls further up the field. The size of both players means they’re both extremely capable of holding the ball up and allowing the fast players such as Sarr and Deulofeu to join up in the attack leading to devastating counter attacks.
Going forward, Watford’s main threat is their wingers Ismaïla Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu who team up excellently with dominant centre-forward Troy Deeney. This trio is further helped from behind by the imposing figure of Abdoulaye Doucouré. Whilst Doucouré sets up extremely well further back in midfield, he is also competent further up the pitch which has given him a more attacking role in this Watford side when fit. On Sunday, Chelsea appeared to struggle with the physicality of Leicester City’s midfield and so failing to start N’Golo Kanté and Mateo Kovačić could result in a serious midfield mismatch.
Someone who will certainly be a huge concern to Chelsea is Troy Deeney up top. As a result of his drive and impressive physicality, Deeney is an absolute nightmare to defend against for opposition defenders. Something Chelsea have struggled with since the restart is defending in general and there seems to be a real lack of understanding in defence. Deeney will be licking his lips at Wednesday night’s performance and the deployment of Kurt Zouma is absolutely essential for Frank Lampard if he wants to try and control him.
How will Chelsea set up?
Lampard will be in two minds about how to set up against this Watford side. It seems unlikely they will want to pile on pressure as it is more likely to expose centre-back partnership Craig Cathcart and Craig Dawson. Neither of these players are particularly fast and there have been issues in the past caused by balls over the top, resulting in red cards in clear goal-scoring opportunities. But, if he does deploy a side more suited to counter-attacking, there is no guarantee that Watford will even really show much desire to press and dominate. After all, whilst three points are needed, a single point against fourth place is certainly not the end of the world.
Nigel Pearson and his Watford side will have had very close eyes on Wednesday night’s game against West Ham United and they will have undoubtedly noted just how much Chelsea struggled with the way West Ham setup. In a few games now, Christian Pulisic has looked like Chelsea’s only real creative outlook and they will know that if they double up on him, chances will be limited. Both of Chelsea’s goals against West Ham came from Willian set-pieces so a far more potent midfield and attack combination will be required to truly threaten this Watford side.
If results go against Chelsea this weekend, by the time kick-off comes around at 8pm on Saturday night, the Blues could potentially find themselves as low-down as sixth place. Alternatively, they could still be just a point off third but the contrasts are remarkable. Either way, this truly is a must win game in Frank Lampard’s quest for Champions League football.