A sumptuous attacking display from talismanic forward Eden Hazard propelled Chelsea to a 2-1 win at Watford in which both goals for the away side were scored by the Belgian.
The Hornets quickly responded to their visitors’ opener through a sweet volley from Roberto Pereyra, however, Hazard both won and dispatched a penalty in the second half that would ensure the Blues returned home from Vicarage Road with all three points to boast of.
Story of the match
After a tepid beginning, the first major incident occurred in the 10th minute when Christian Kabasele attempted to clear Willian’s effort on goal and subsequently collided with the post. Following a short delay, Kabasele tried to play on but only aggravated his injury, eventually being replaced by veteran centre-back Adrian Mariappa.
With half-time looming, the deadlock was broken with Hazard’s 100th goal for Chelsea. A calamitous error in midfield for Watford allowed Mateo Kovacic to thread a ball through for the Belgian, who drifted past the oncoming Ben Foster and slotted the ball into the empty net.
Having supposedly scored at the perfect time, the Blues looked certain to head into the break a goal to the good. However, in the final minute of the stoppage period, a lofted corner from Jose Holebas landed in the stride of Pereyra who lashed the ball past Kepa Arrizabalaga from outside of the penalty area.
Watford kicked off the second half the brighter of the two sides and will feel aggrieved that they weren’t able to capitalise on a reasonable spell of dominance. Gerard Deulofeu was shoved to the ground by David Luiz — yet the referee controversially waved away the Hornets’ claims for a penalty.
Around the hour mark, Chelsea had their own claims for a spot-kick as Hazard, through on goal, was caught between Mariappa and Foster. On this occasion, Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot, and Hazard coolly dispatched from 12 yards to give the Blues a much-needed victory after their disappointing home defeat to Leicester City last weekend.
Takeaways from the match
In a division with world-class talents such as Mohamed Salah, Kevin de Bruyne, Virgil van Dijk and many more, Hazard will still believe he has a strong claim to be the best player in the Premier League — and it’s nights like this that prove why.
The 27-year old, deployed in the increasingly comfortable false-nine role by Maurizio Sarri, was central to all of Chelsea’s attacking fortunes, using his silky touch and untraceable movement to devastating effect for Watford’s back line.
A century of goals within seven full Premier League seasons is quite an achievement, and Hazard will now have his sights set on the Golden Boot after his tally increased to 10 for this season.
Watford valorous, but void in quality proved fatal
Javi Gracia arrived at Vicarage Road with a reputation, forged in his native Spain, for giving the league’s superpowers a tough time of encounters with his sides — he took four points from Barcelona in the 2014/15 season with Malaga — and it would be a fair assessment to say that he has so far lived up to the billing during his stint in England.
The 48-year old’s first home match in charge of Watford was a 4-1 victory over Chelsea in February, and his next encounter with a top-six opponent was against Tottenham Hotspur in early September — that ended in a 2-1 win for the Hornets.
Since then, Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea have visited Vicarage Road — all have won, but none have had it easy against Gracia’s Hornets.
While the inequality in ability was evident between the two sides, Watford fought valiantly to muster a result from the game and created enough chances to snatch another goal — but it just wasn’t to be for the home side.
Watford remain at Vicarage Road on Saturday as they welcome a recently-revived Newcastle United side who defeated them 1-0 at St James’ Park in November.
Meanwhile, Chelsea face another away tie as they travel to Crystal Palace a day later.