Well, what a start that was! Antonio Conte’s regime got off to the best possible start with a 2-1 win over West Ham, and while the scoreline suggests otherwise the Blues were rarely troubled by our London neighbours. The stats: 62% possession, six shots on target and seven corners highlight just how dominant we were.
Eden Hazard took the Man of the Match honours for a spellbinding display on the left hand side, but really it was Diego Costa who caught the eye for many reasons. His goal ultimately separated the two teams, but it was the manner in which he put himself about the pitch that really warmed the cockles. As Sky Sports pointed out, he completed more sprints per 90 minutes than any other player in the Premier League last weekend.
And how pleasing was it that we looked so much more solid defensively. Yes, it helped that Andy Carroll was alone up front and with barely a claret shirt within 20 yards of him at any time, but he was well shackled by Terry and Cahill anyway. N’Golo Kante came in and did what he does best: marshal the midfield areas and break up any moves that had a hint of danger attached to them.
But it was the tactical nuance of Conte that helped win the day. West Ham’s right back is Michail Antonio, a winger by trade who is handy going forward but who, defensively, isn’t as solid as a Premier League full back should be. So Eden Hazard slipped inside, allowing Cesar Azpilicueta and Nemanja Matic to overload. It worked a treat, as the foul Antonio committed on the Spaniard for our opening goal testifies.
Late on Conte introduced Michy Batshuayi for his debut alongside Costa in a two-pronged attack, and the change worked almost instantly: the Belgian nodding down a long ball for Costa to fire home. If anybody needed proof that two up top can still work in the modern game, that was it.
Onwards we march to Vicarage Road to take on Watford, who took a respectable point home from a trip to Southampton on the opening day. However, the fact that the Saints fired some 24 shots on goal suggests that attacking opportunities won’t be hard for the Chelsea boys to create come Saturday.
A clean bill of health has been reported, and so we can expect an unchanged starting eleven to the one that took to the field on Monday evening.
For now at least, Conte will resist the urge to pair Costa and Batshuayi from the start, instead opting for the 4-2-3-1 that served his side so well against the Hammers.
Head to Head
If history is to repeat itself then we should be cheering a Chelsea win come 5:45pm on Saturday: they hold a 14-9 head-to-head lead over the Hornets, and perhaps most pertinently the Blues have lost just once in 15 meetings with Walter Mazzarri’s side.
Last season both fixtures ended in a stalemate: 0-0 at Vicarage Road and 2-2 at the Bridge.
How the Match Will Be Won
Watford will pose a very different kind of threat to West Ham. While the Hammers looked to hit Andy Carroll aerially, or isolate their wide players against our full backs in order to deliver crosses, the Hornets play through the middle, with Troy Deeney dropping off Odion Ighalo and acting as the focal point of their attacks.
Kante should be able to break down their movements, however, and deny Deeney the space he needs to slide Ighalo through on goal.
Watford will employ a 3-5-2 formation, and so Oscar will be required to drop back into midfield and support Kante and Matic against Etienne Capoue, Valeron Behrami and Adiene Guedioura. They generally play as a flat three however, which is a much easier system to break down.
Chelsea’s joy will come down the flanks. Hazard can once again drift into the inside left channel and leave Azpilicueta in a one-on-one situation with Nordin Amrabat, who is better going forward than he is defensively. Given the amount of joy Dusan Tadic had in the number ten role last Saturday against them, expect Hazard to drift inside more and more as the game progresses.
Like last season, this could be another tightly-fought contest between these two sides. Chelsea will need to defend in numbers before breaking at speed, and the key to victory could once again be Hazard playing between the Watford lines. Expect the Belgian to fire the Blues to a narrow victory.