Thomas Tuchel made six changes to the starting line-up that began Sunday’s draw with Manchester United, granting Saul Niguez his first premier league appearance since October and reinstating contract rebel Andreas Christensen at the heart of the Chelsea defence.
But Chelsea looked more like a team of strangers in the games opening ten minutes, with Mendy forced into a fantastic flying save, reacting to a deflected Josh King header and keeping the score at 0-0.
Watford were very much on top in the game when the match was halted due to a member of the crowd being taken ill with a suspected heart attack. The players left the pitch and were not prepared to return until definitive news on the condition of the supporter could be relayed to them.
With the individual concerned stabilised and taken by ambulance to Watford General Hospital, the game resumed, with the away side still struggling to find the kind of form that has blessed them so far this season. Chelsea’s first chance saw Mason Mount hitting the post, taking advantage of a poor defensive clearance from Watford’s Danny Rose, to latch on to the ball and get a shot away.
Dennis the Menace:
Chelsea continued to grow in the game, and a deft touch from Marcos Alonso to bring the ball down found Kai Havertz in the box, who unselfishly passed to Mount, who shot low and hard into the net. Moments later, Chelsea could have doubled their lead, had Christian Pulsic provided a better-timed pass to Havertz, with the latter’s strike ruled out for offside.
But Watford weren’t prepared to roll over and continued to apply pressure to Mendy’s goal, finally breaking through on 43 minutes, when the impressive Emmanuel Dennis capitalised on an error from Ruben Loftus-Cheek to shoot through Rudiger’s legs and into the goal.
The game again became stretched as Chelsea tried to fight their way back into it, feeling more and more like a cup tie, with crunching tackles and end to end play. Watford were unlucky not to go in at half time with the lead, Sissoko unable to connect with the ball when it fell to him just a few yards out.
Watford continued to battle and compete with the league leaders for every ball, and Thomas Tuchel cut an animated figure on the touchline. He introduced Hakim Ziyech as a substitute, who within five minutes had been booked and played an erratic pass halfway across the pitch to no-one yet managed to find the breakthrough with a first time shot to score his first league goal of the season after some great work from Mount to create the opportunity.
Chelsea managed to cling on to their lead and the resulting three points despite the efforts of Claudio Ranieri's team. The west London side will be able to commend themselves for a dogged and determined performance and be grateful that Loftus-Cheek and Pulisic completed the ’90 minutes’ of this match that actually took place over two and a half hours tonight. Romulu Lukaku also gained another tweet minutes of match fitness as he comes back from injury.
Now with the games coming thick and fast over the festive period, Chelsea will be hoping that upcoming tests aren’t all as challenging as this wet and windy Wednesday evening in Watford proved to be.