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Chelsea 3 Watford 0 (05/05/2019) 06/05/2019

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- This is going to sound absurd… but I’m beginning to wonder whether a lifetime’s worth of accumulated superstition has really got very much going for it.

I know, I know.  I’ve been turning the rational arguments over and over inside my head…  “It would have been so much worse if I hadn’t…” and so forth.  And logic dictates that this must true.  Nonetheless…  when a day’s dutiful parentage on Saturday in deliberate avoidance of football scores is rewarded by watching Wolves and bloody West Ham win on Match of the Day in an abandoned, darkened living room at midnight.  When the carefully measured decision to walk from Blackfriars to Stamford Bridge on the south bank of the Thames for the most part (the north bank walk having been unrewarded by our FA Cup defeat four years ago) is met with such a disappointing outcome.  Ditto lucky hornet socks, lucky Pretenders t-shirt.

When lucky half-time lucky chocolate, that most dependable of precautions, is rewarded by an unheralded burst of both energy and goals from our hosts at the onset of the second half…  well.  You have to begin to wonder how much influence one has on the outcome of a football match after all.

I’m sure I’ll regain some perspective by next week.

2- To be fair, and as was reflected by a venerable Chelsea panel in the tube afterwards, we started the game as unlike a side preoccupied with the Cup Final as it’s possible to imagine.  We were lively, assertive and direct, pinning the home side back with some verve and energy.

Troy helps, of course.  Troy always helps.  Pre-match speculation considered the possibility that he’d been kept in a cage for a fortnight, fed on raw meat and forced to ponder the consequences of his reckless if harshly punished forearm swing.  Either he was going to pummel Chelsea’s threadbare defence into the ground or get himself sent off (again).

Actually he did neither, but this was still a dominant 45 minutes for the centre forward.  The first chance, his flick on to Deulofeu who drove wide, was painfully easy against a flabby, dozy Chelsea and he had the beating of Christensen in the air for most of the game and certainly the half.  The footnote, as ever, is that we didn’t capitalise on our early superiority, as you’ll have noticed… a recurring theme against the top sides.  Set aside that spanking at Anfield and the win over Spurs and you have ten games (ten!) that to varying degrees has seen us compete in a close game that we’ve lost anyway.  Certainly Stamford Bridge regulars will have enjoyed our visits in recent years… everybody likes a plucky loser, this the third game on the trot here that we’ve worn that mantle.

Troy’s best attempt was the closest we came to altering that narrative, a short corner routine working the ball back to the lurking Holebas, whose near-post missile found Deeney’s forehead.  It wasn’t just top corner it was past the goalkeeper, until he athletically clawed it onto the post by, unconventionally, reaching up to it with his “furthest” left arm from underneath it.  A fine stop.

3- Meanwhile, Nathaniel Chalobah has finally engineered a start and fittingly it’s at Stamford Bridge whose denizens greet him almost as appreciatively as we do and applaud him off on his substitution an hour or so later (but see “plucky loser” note above).  It’s easy to forget that the Doucouré/Chalobah midfield partnership was the foundation of our fine start under Marco Silva last season (Caps managed only half an hour off the bench before Nate’s knee injury) and here, finally, it was resurrected.

And not quite to the same devastating effect.  Nate is more than adequate on the ball… tidy, efficient, and with an ability to take a touch and launch a quick and wrong-footing pass that only he had spotted that is unparalleled in our squad.  Off the ball however…  Capoue is a daunting benchmark to measure him against, but too often he was found chasing an escaping opponent as the home side gradually came into the match in the last fifteen minutes of the half.  Marco Silva’s early midfield had the ferreting Tom Cleverley at its apex too of course; Nate’s been out a while but the pairing looked less robust than we have of late.

Chelsea had provided threat on the break earlier in the half.  Mapps capped a strong 45 minutes with a sturdy challenge to deny the rotund Argentine, his near-post block even denying a corner.  As the home side asserted more control it was Ruben Loftus-Cheek, an early sub for the injured Kanté, who drove them on but although your heart was in your mouth whenever Hazard picked the ball up we were largely comfortable.  Only Pedro’s late sledgehammer of a shot caused palpitations;  we were buoyant at half-time after good halves from the bubbly Hughes and the assertive Femenía in particular.

4- I tempted fate at the break by tweeting about how much fun we were all having.  Five minutes in and we weren’t having fun at all;  a visibly more energised, vigorous Chelsea side engineered a couple of set pieces and suddenly the game was disappearing over the horizon.  So unwarranted and so frustrating.  Unwarranted… not because you don’t deserve to concede goals when you don’t pick people up at set pieces but more because this miserably indolent Chelsea side and similarly dozy support had done so little to earn it whilst our best efforts went unrewarded.  No, I know that’s not how it works.

Again, there’s an angle which says “so we binned it.  At 2-0 down we shrugged and let our minds drift forward a couple of weeks”.  I didn’t see that. No lack of effort anyway, no lack of commitment on or off the pitch; a couple of minutes of sulking and we were back at it.  Certainly Abdoulaye Doucouré has had better games, games that didn’t involve him being quite so slack with possession.  Certainly Will Hughes was less impactful in the second half than the first; that’s a recurring theme though, one that pre-dates the semi final and that doesn’t generally include a running spat with Marcos Alonso that a lesser referee than the excellent and unfussy Tierney might have penalised.

But no lack of effort.  Just effectiveness.  And frankly nothing we didn’t already know here… our midfield, shorn of its most effective component, still looks excellent, our full backs are tremendous, our attacking play has lots of nice things going for it but a clinical touch isn’t one of them… Deulofeu shoots narrowly wide, Jose Holebas bundles across the area before slugging over with his weaker right foot.  And certainly we could do with strengthening at centre half, where the dependable Craig Cathcart is suddenly less so for the first time this season;  giving Higuain the half-hour’s head start required to get beyond you takes some doing, his finish was exemplary and then, yes, our heads did drop.  When the mercurial Pereyra slung a cross in only for our own man to block it inadvertently on the line and subs Success and Gray contrive to get an offside call out of turning in the rebound, you knew it wasn’t our day.

5- I’m minded to think back to Sven-Göran Eriksson’s World Cup campaigns in 2002 and 2006.  Not that, in the grand scheme of things I cared all that much… I mean, give me the choice between an England World Cup win and the consequent witless nationalistic outpouring and, you know, Watford winning a throw-in in a pre-season friendly and the throw-in is in strong contention.

Nonetheless.  Both campaigns saw England knocked out in the quarter finals and thus having come somewhere between fifth and eighth in the World, and both were presented and reported as failures, at least in the immediate aftermath.  Patently nonsense.  Patently grotesequely oversimplified nonsense, as if there really is nothing but winning and (anything less than winning equals) losing.  Quarter Final defeat was not what had been hoped from a strong squad but it was no worse than par.

The same is true here.  It was already clear before today that we weren’t going to finish seventh, but seventh was merely the peak of our ambitions in the League this season and not making it doesn’t make it a failure.  Even ignoring that May 18th thing, mid-table in the Premier League and all the fun we’ve had on the way isn’t a bad place to be.

Which doesn’t mean it’s enough.  Doesn’t mean we’re bashfully appreciating our seat at the big table, still grateful for the crumbs being thrown our way. But there’s space for recognising progress.  After all, to get too het up about losing seventh place, let alone losing to Chelsea, would suggest that we believed that this was an isolated opportunity.  That our club’s presence in the top half all season is as anomalous and inexplicable as much of those commenting with their fingers up their backsides believe it to be.

That the club isn’t being run by people who will continue to build and nurture it along its current trajectory.

Ha.

Yooorns.

Foster 3, *Femenía 4*, Holebas 3, Cathcart 2, Mariappa 3, Hughes 3, Doucouré 3, Chalobah 3, Pereyra 2, Deulofeu 3, Deeney 4
Subs: Cleverley (for Chalobah, 67) 2, Gray (for Deeney, 83) 0, Success (for Deulofeu, 83) 0, Janmaat, Kabasele, Masina, Gomes

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Comments»

1. John - 06/05/2019

After a game like yesterday I always go back to the pre-season predictions for some perspective – BBC’s Phil McNulty for example (Watford 19th) or the Guardian poll of “experts” (Watford 18th). Even if we lose at Wembley it’s our best season for over 30 years and it can still be our best season ever.

Our pressing throughout was very good, but if you can’t do the basics like defend two (consecutive!) corners …..

I actually thought Chalobah had an excellent game by the way, and was always making himself available for the ball. Femenia had his best game for a while too.

2. Nick Catley - 06/05/2019

A superstitious statistician is a wonderful thing, if difficult to say. My gut is telling me that after those ten competitive losses to the top six, we’re due something – and that after almost 60 years, the football gods won’t give up the domestic treble without a fight. No, I know that’s not how that works, either…

3. Harefield Hornet - 06/05/2019

For totally selfish reasons (holiday overseas booked end of July) I have convinced myself that not finishing seventh is a blessing in disguise. No – far more satisfying and convenient to go straight into the Group stage, especially at the expense of those carping Black Country people!

4. MartinG - 06/05/2019

Re. your point 4. Did the same thing. Sent some Spurs mates a msg at halftime saying we were well on top especially for the first 30 mins. 5 mins later apologising for jumping the gun.
Despite the result really enjoyed the game and was pleased to see Chalobah much more like his pre-injury self until he ran out of gas.
Thanks to you and Ian too for another season of fascinating reports with your uncanny ability to sum up the games and atmosphere so entertainingly and well.

Matt Rowson - 06/05/2019

Thx Martin 😊

5. David - 06/05/2019

my Highlight was watching Chalobah contributing after a half dozen below par first team performances. you might be right in that a midfield with Nate might require a Cleverly/Hughes buzzing around in front of him but still something to hold onto with the expectation we will lose Doucs this summer.

I think our front 3 ((Deeny,Gerry & Grey) success is some way off) are as good as any outside of the top 6 but our centre half’s need an increase in mobility, size and dominance.

6. Jeff Lloyd - 06/05/2019

I’m convinced, in that way fans can be (I.e with little reasoning except bloody-minded belief) that Janmaat is our best right back. His delivery is usually dangerous, he has a goal scoring threat (which I don’t see from Kiko) and he has an energy going forward that often invigorates the fans and the team. Having said that, I like Kiko. I just think DJ is much much better. Am I alone?

7. mark - 07/05/2019

Great reports as usual 🙂

8. Leaveden 'orn - 07/05/2019

I remember watching both the boothroyd era games and to a lesser extent the SGT season games,where we lost games we dominated or kept tight and lost to lower/mid table more savy premiership teams.

I think it is a measure of how far we have come, where this now happens only against top 6 teams.

The rest we can now match and outplay the bottom clubs.

Trouble is man city still seem to raise the bar. Its about time we collected something from them.


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