The Warm Down: Chelsea show Watford how to perform
Photo by Getty Images/Darren Walsh

Records are there to be broken — even the undesirable ones. For the first time in their history, Watford have now failed to win any of their opening eleven games in a season. It's a run of form which currently consigns them to the very foot of the Premier League table with well over a quarter of the campaign already elapsed.

Perhaps more concerning than their lowly position and predicament is the fact that, in the majority of their assignments in 2019/20 thus far, the Hornets have lacked any semblance of a team which looks capable of lifting themselves from the rut they are enduring. This very much has the feeling of a season which could drag on for an awfully long time in Hertfordshire.

The visit of in-form Chelsea was unwelcome from the perspective of their hosts, and it was no surprise to see the Blues secure a comfortable and assured 2-1 victory. Depressed inevitability rather than expectancy filled the floodlit stands as Vicarage Road watched on helplessly, and that alone is possibly the sorriest indictment of Watford's present situation.

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Two masterly goals, made far too simple

Among the home side's objectives in this fixture will have been to keep proceedings tight and scores even for as long as possible — languishing at the bottom of the scoring charts, with just five goals in 10 games, doubtless gave them little confidence of mounting a comeback if their opponents took the lead. Indeed, it's a feat they've managed just twice so far this season.

But that target was shattered, and danger spelt, inside just five minutes. After dominating possession in the early stages but making little advancement towards goal, Chelsea simply flicked a switch. Jorginho struck a first-time pass from the half-way line, imparting such bend that it somehow found Tammy Abraham behind Watford's defence. The young Englishman, chasing the Golden Boot, was typically composed as he caressed the ball over Ben Foster and into the net.

On first viewing, it was a sumptuous goal. Blues fans will remember it for the spellbinding assist and exquisite finish. But for Watford, it was conclusive anecdotal evidence of perhaps their most glaring flaw of all: they are simply too easy to play against.

The entirety of the buildup occurred unpressurised, but the tactic of waiting for and preying on opposition mistakes paid few dividends. Jorginho's pass, for all its magnificence, looked so ludicrously impressive that it was almost too good to be true — Craig Dawson was caught flat-footed, Christian Kabasele was still attempting an unsuccessful offside trap when Abraham ran free, and Foster's hesitation did little to aid his chances of keeping out one of the most clinical strikers in the league.

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But as the trio above shrugged and glared at one another in disbelief, it would have been inappropriate to pin the blame of the goal on any one individual. Countless times this season has the process of Watford conceding been puzzlingly inextricable and yet totally straightforward. Chelsea's goal was skilful but preventable — they proved once again that it takes little more than inventiveness and quick-thinking to score against the Hornets.

When Christian Pulisic notched the second goal of the game, a similar story was told. Willian's drive from midfield showed determination that Watford can only envy, and the American's sly run to meet Abraham's drilled cross and poke the ball home was equally impressive. But the whole sequence went unchallenged. Attempts to stop Chelsea in their tracks were half-hearted at best. Goals are football's precious commodity, and they should not be surrendered so easily in the Premier League.

Foster keeps Watford in the contest

The shining light on a gloomy evening for Watford was their man between the sticks. Chelsea's 16 shots and 10 on target support the theory that, were it not for Foster, the margin between the sides would unequivocally have been greater than a solitary goal.

He has now spent roughly half his life plying his trade professionally, and his age of 36 has been called to public attention after a spate of errors in recent months. Nonetheless, the goalkeeper built on an impressive personal performance against AFC Bournemouth last weekend to ridicule any doubters of his value to the Hornets.

After the early opener, the thought of another mortifying defeat such as that which Watford suffered against Manchester City in September penetrated the minds of supporters, but Foster harnessed every atom of his physical being to ensure that would not be the case. The Blues fervently chased a second, but most of their efforts were met by the unwavering resistance of one man.

An impressive string of saves gained its first instalment when Abraham caught the lucky bounce of a loose ball. The 22-year old opened up his body but saw his side-footed effort pushed away for Watford to clear. Then, Pulisic met Willian's corner at the front post and looped a header across goal. It looked destined for the net, but Foster flapped and flailed determinedly to claw it agonisingly wide of the upright.

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His next call into action came when Mason Mount wriggled his way through three tackles and teed himself up for a shot on his stronger right foot from just over 20 yards out. The strike had venom, dip and precision in its course for the top corner, until the shot-stopper did justice to his label once more to tip the ball onto the bar.

Foster was allowed no respite from his lively evening after half time. A sweeping team move propelled Chelsea from the depths of their own third into Watford's penalty area from where Mount was granted with a glorious opportunity to mark his name onto the scoresheet, but Foster rose to the shot to keep his side in the game.

There was little the 36-year old could do about the second goal, the result of a farrago of hesitation and absent-mindedness in front of him. However, he refused to be disheartened, and was equal to further efforts from Pulisic and Mateo Kovačić.

How often can it be said that a goalkeeper's performance was so impressive that it almost warranted a goal? Well, that was arguably the case this time around, and as Foster made his way up for a free-kick, Watford's final push for an equaliser, the deserved nearly became the true. Gerard Deulofeu's cross was helped on by Abdoulaye Doucouré and fell neatly into the corridor to be guided home, but Kepa Arrizabalaga was equal to his opposite number's diving header.

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It was fitting that the pair of shot-stoppers, both of whom were truly domineering when called into action, shared an embrace after the final whistle.

VAR proves characteristically contentious

Fast becoming English football's most pressing and yet exhaustive point of debate following its introduction to the Premier League from this season onwards, VAR claimed the evening's spotlight as it has so frequently in recent times.

The vague nature of the rules surrounding the operation of the off-field referee from the system's base at Stockley Park has already come to the detriment of the majority of England's top flight teams, not least Watford who have seen valid penalty claims neglected and handballs ignored. It would be a stretch to declare they have undeniably been cost points by VAR, but it has certainly done nothing to help their increasingly desperate cause.

On this occasion, however, the Hornets were granted a route back into the game, though the impartial inside any football supporter will struggle to agree with the manner in which it was given.

With Chelsea risking possession deep in their own half, Watford decided to pounce. Deulofeu tackled a hesitant Jorginho and emerged with the ball, but fell to the ground before he could register a cross from the byline. Calls from the crowd for a penalty were tepid compared to the Spaniard's exasperation, but referee Anthony Taylor was unmoved.

That is, until he received word from his earpiece that the decision was under review. The footage showed contact which appeared minimal at best but, as time dragged on, the prospect of an overturn only grew. There was an air of surprise as well as elation when Taylor indicated to the spot.

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Of course, Deulofeu couldn't complain. He took the penalty he had gained and assuredly sent Arrizabalaga the wrong way, but even fortune proved too little, too late for Watford to purloin a point.

A truly staggering gulf in quality

Don't be deceived by the scoreline — this was a one-sided affair in every meaning of the phrase, and it is both telling and true that Foster's heroics and the ambiguities of VAR were the only forces keeping Watford afloat in what was otherwise a miserable, uneventful and ultimately unfruitful evening for the hosts.

Haphazard defending, which appeared to have been cured in recent times after reports of meticulous focus on improving the area in training, returned to the fore, while attacking exertions from the likes of Deulofeu, Roberto Pereyra and Andre Gray remained unprofitable. It gave the impression of progress undone at a time when ascendency is the only option.

But perhaps it would be unfair to focus on the shortcomings of one side when, in truth, the potency of the other was quite remarkable. This was Chelsea's night, and they were every bit as stellar as five consecutive wins would portray them to be.

Despite their transfer ban, it's impossible to deny that manager Frank Lampard possesses an embarrassment of riches to deploy. N'Golo Kanté watched on as Kovačić and Jorginho ran the show; academy graduates Abraham, Mount and Fikayo Tomori looked seasoned Premier League players, while fellow prospects Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James earned minutes from the bench; and Arrizabalaga demonstrated that, even when the defence is breached, one giant obstacle still remains in the struggle to inflict goals against the Blues.

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One goal separated the two sides at the final whistle, but the void between them is quite remarkable, and it is a story which rings increasingly true when the elite — of which Chelsea can by all accounts consider themselves — compare themselves to the rest of the Premier League.

For how long can Sánchez Flores count on time?

Watford's verdict to part ways with former head coach Javi Gracia during the first international break of the season in September was, like the majority of their managerial decisions, heavily criticised. Here was the man that had secured the club's best top flight campaign, and first FA Cup final, in over three decades, walking the plank just four games into the new campaign.

But the abject form which stretched into the back end of 2018/19 had shown no signs of amendment, and a change of management appeared to be the only way to clear the rut. Quique Sánchez Flores returned to Vicarage Road after steering the Hornets comfortably clear of relegation in 2015/16, and he would be tasked with that very assignment again.

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As results continued to suffer, the silver lining was that time probably remained sufficient for the 54-year old to steady the sinking ship. Nonetheless, and though it beggars belief, the season is already three months old; Watford have already endured their worst start to a campaign in the club's history; and both their statistical and theoretical chances of surviving the drop are already worryingly low.

Any manager that goes seven games winless, at any team competing at any level, will feel the pressure. With crunch games against Norwich City, Burnley and Southampton all approaching before the end of November, Sánchez Flores can afford to wait no longer. The time for Watford's season to get underway, if not already in the past, is now.

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