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Chelsea 3 Watford 0 (04/07/2020) 05/07/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1-  There’ll come a time where we don’t start a piece by talking about The Current Situation.  I don’t know whether to hope for that time or not, since the fear is that at that point The Current Situation will have been normalised.  And I hate The Current Situation, if that wasn’t clear.  Hate the isolation, hate the anxiety, hate what’s happening to people, hate that this would be bad enough in any circumstances but, well.  You know.  But maybe things could still be worse.  Maybe sticking for a bit is no bad thing.  Yes, I know the pubs are open.  Anyway, one day we won’t open a piece by talking about it.  This clearly isn’t that time.

“Normal”, for instance, would be attending this fixture by jumping on the Thameslink down to Blackfriars and spending an indulgent couple of hours walking the five miles or so along the Thames to Stamford Bridge.  That’s how it ought to be.  Meeting friends, family.  Grabbing a beer beforehand, or a quick Wagamama in that place above Fulham Broadway that’s somehow always empty.  You don’t buy food in Stamford Bridge of course.  Not as a policy decision, I’ve nothing particularly against Chelsea this week.  But because it’s shit.  Important local knowledge, speaking as someone with a fairly low, tolerant and accommodating crap food threshold.  I’d still walk all the way to Stamford Bridge now, at 11pm, for one of their awful shitty wrap things and all the rest of it. Right now.  Screw this.

2- For all that the games are on top of each other, there’s something painfully drawn out about this narrative.  Watching all of The Games That Matter means that we’re generally watching a lot of football matches, and a lot of football matches involving at least one terrible football team, what with lockdown and that making limited teams less fit, and less mobilisable by the presence of a crowd.  The number of teams involved and the low success rate of the protagonists so far means a lot of this is reasonably enjoyable nonetheless, what with schadenfreude and so on.  Man United toying with Bournemouth earlier was a popcorn event for all, surely, of a Watford, or Villa, or West Ham persuasion complete with mildly threatening twists and turns that briefly teased before the inevitable happy ending.

Where it falls down is where something genuinely alarming happens, like West Ham beating Chelsea.  Or, of course, when it comes to watching our own particular brand of awful.  That’s not quite so fun.  And playing Chelsea a few days (only a few days?  really?) after they got done by West Ham, the evening after United and Leicester picked up wins, was never going to be ideal.  This really didn’t  fall for us which, at the risk of repetition, is why we really ought to have taken points from the games that did.   As an aside, Frank Lampard’s appointment may still prove over-emotional and ill-judged, but he’s clearly not the idiot he might have been.  In my mind’s eye the excess optimism borne of desperation saw Sarr gobbling up the great big spaces behind Marcos Alonso and Troy beating up Christensen and Rüdiger, hardly the most robust of central defensive pairings.  As it turned out, the big open spaces behind Marcos Alonso were the empty seats higher up Stamford Bridge’s East Stand, Lampard having shunted the much more obstructive Azpilicueta into the left back slot, whilst Zouma came in for Rüdiger.  Zouma’s prone to the odd calamity himself, but he’s also a Big Old Unit, and for the second game in succession Troy was thoroughly bullied, isolated and ineffective.

3- Which isn’t to say that the whole thing was awful.  It wasn’t.  There was a plan here, and it wasn’t a bad one.  It left a fair bit to chance of course, which as already discussed had already demonstrated itself an unreliable neighbour to leave in charge of watering your pot plants.  It also didn’t work for reasons that will be discussed.  But it was a decent plan that looked like it might even deliver, until it didn’t.

4-5-1, effectively, with Sarr very deep and Troy very isolated.  That was the problem, the lack of reliable outball given Troy’s lack of mobility and lack of ability, on this occasion, to hold the ball up or bring others into play.  The pressure told on 28 minutes, and perhaps it would have done so sooner or later for all that it required precision and ingenuity on the part of Barkley and Giroud to penetrate.  We’d done well up to then though, we’d dug in and looked like we meant it.  More than going through the motions, a negative spoiling game can be an inspiring thing when it’s your lot doing it and when your against the odds.  And when it’s done with vigour like this.  Nonetheless, they were knocking on the door repeatedly.

As above, the lack of a way out was the problem.  Kiko was our most willing outlet, bombing down the left redoubtably and being a nuisance, even if the need to cut inside or backwards due to his lack of left foot meant that his bold forays tended to fizzle out.  Mapps had come in on the right, which caused a bit of discussion pre-match but a good shout for me.  He didn’t have a particularly conspicuous game, but we should stop and appreciate him from time to time.  As discussed in this piece, he’s a Watford legend, and in particular a leader in an area of the pitch that has been short of such.

4- And actually, Mapps’ presence was particularly welcome given that, as above, Troy was not just ineffective but sullen, miserable.  Quiet, even, if you can believe it.  And that another experienced player and some-time captain, Étienne Capoue, was about to do something really quite stupid.

The only defence you can make is that you’d rather someone stuffed up by doing something than by not doing something.  It was a bold run to intercept Pulisic with the best of intentions.  But it was also witless…  Capoue was on a yellow card, Mapps was well positioned, and yet he steamed in and gave away a needless penalty.  On the replay… again, perhaps we were unlucky.  Not that it wasn’t a penalty, but that the contact was unfortunate, accidental.  Clumsy rather than violent. But when you go in at speed without control like that you make it possible for such things to happen.  Willian tucked the penalty away, and a 1-0 half time deficit that you might even have taken at kick-off became something far less surmountable.

5- So for all that there were long spells in the second half when we scarcely seemed able to string two passes together, when every clearance was humped aimlessly and blindly, and in which Chelsea utterly dominated possession the fact that we got as late as we did at 2-0 is a decent thing.  A good couple of straws’ worth to cling to, I think.  Because we hadn’t given up… even Sarr, who was virtually non-existant going forward (and all the more startling when he did stretch his legs for the rarity and impact of it) was digging in defensively.  Not giving up.  If you can be murdered 2-0 then we were being murdered 2-0, but 2-0 is still only 2-0.  You can get lucky at 2-0.  You give yourself a chance.

We didn’t take that chance but we were better than lucky, I think.  The subs improved things again, and more drastically… Danny Welbeck gave perhaps his most convincing cameo of a season that has never quite got going, looking mobile and bold and combative.  A case to be made for him starting instead of Troy on Tuesday, brave as that would be and to be weighed against the captain’s need for fitness.  Tom Cleverley added some bite (and more of that authority and leadership) to the non-stop hassling of Will Hughes in midfield, Adam Masina suddenly found space on the left (and produced our first two shots on target, albeit neither really threatened to be more than a statistic).

But there were proper chances here too, none better than when Welbeck skidded down the left, cut in from the touchline and squared for Will Hughes to be denied by an excellent block from Christensen (I think).  Earlier, Welbeck had been played through and didn’t put his shot quite far enough across Kepa.  We’re running out of games for him to get it right, yes yes.  But he took the shot this time.

It was lively and positive.  Had we kept it at 2-0, let alone nicked a goal, we’d feel happier I think.  3-0 feels more like a gubbing, which in some ways it was, but a gubbing with silver linings and caveats, one of which being that Chelsea again needed to be excellent to score the third.  No gifts here.

Ultimately, we’re a side without much confidence and with limitations and this isn’t news.  Particularly the loss of Deulofeu, who however precocious is at least a distraction and at best capable of providing something to turn a game.  We don’t have that otherwise, least of all from Pereyra whose lazy, sloppy cameo was as pitiful as anything we’ve seen from him.

But there was positive stuff in this.  Whatever happens during the next instalments on Sunday we’re still in touch, and there were signs of life here.  Signs of fight, discipline and character.  All of which we’ll need in the next week in games from which gaining points always looked more realistic than from today.

Hang in there.  We only need to be less shit than Villa, Bournemouth and, most immediately, Norwich.


*Foster 3*. Mariappa 3, Femenía 3, Kabasele 3, Dawson 3, Capoue 2, Chalobah 3, Doucouré 2, Hughes 3, Sarr 2, Deeney 1
Subs: Welbeck (for Deeney, 58) 3, Cleverley (for Capoue, 64) 3, Masina (for Femenía, 64) 3, Pereyra (for Sarr, 83) NA, Cathcart, Holebas, Gray, João Pedro, Gomes


1. Steve - 05/07/2020

Another great piece …

Welbeck must start in place of Deeney who seems unfit and more immobile than ever.
I question whether some of our players were professional during lockdown with both diet and fitness ?

As much as the club should stay on top of things, the players aren’t children ….. (children are probably more responsible than some professional footballers).

What is your prediction v Norwich and Newcastle ?

Mark Scholfield - 05/07/2020

If Welbeck starts and does not get injured I think we will beat Norwich and draw with Newcastle

2. Dugald Wyle - 05/07/2020

Thank you Matt for putting matters relating the the Horns so eloquently, as usual.

Sent from my iPad

3. Harefield Hornet - 05/07/2020

Norwich is obviously the a acid test and they looked half decent going forward against Arsenal the other day before stupid mistakes undid them. There’s going to be an upset at some point from one of the others. Needless to say if we don’t get 3 points against Norwich I think we’ve had it.

John M - 07/07/2020

Yes, without a doubt. Fail to win against Norwich and I can’t see another win coming. A win will give enough positivity to garner a point or three from other fixtures.

4. crisb - 05/07/2020

Disappointing game, particularly as I’d spent a tenner on a day pass for my mum (Chelsea fan) to watch that total domination. However as in the reverse fixture I felt they didn’t truly make the most of their superiority.

I enjoyed Massina having a crack precisely because I felt like the only reason he did it was to avoid having to read/hear “two games, 0 shots on target” in the media, such was the tameness and “i’m definitely getting this on target”-ness of the effort..I mean it bounced before it got to the keeper..

The Norwich game is worrying, because they always seem to threaten and go about the task with energy, even if they ultimately capitulate. Their effort vs Man Utd in the cup was probably the most entertaining game I’d seen since the restart. Much like in Mario Kart, having been pummeled to the back all through a race, there is still something immensely satisfying in a fuck you sort of way about getting that final mushroom boost and snatching 11th on the line, and they’ll be right back in with a chance of that with a win (apologies, much Mario Kart has been played in lock down)…

5. An Athleticzale Holds Forth - 05/07/2020

Don’t understand the excessive criticism of Maxi. Who was sloppy and lazy apparently. Yet he completed 8 out of 10 passes, above the team average and only bettered by Capoue. Whilst his 12 touches in 8 minutes plus added-on time, was 30% superior to anyone else. Presumably he’s an easy target, given he doesn’t ever resemble a headless chicken.

Matt Rowson - 05/07/2020

I like Bobby. But it was the giving the ball away twice within our own half that was the more interesting statistic on this occasion.

Jim Nash - 06/07/2020

I’m usually a Pereyra fan and rarely post comments, but I feel compelled to say something here. He came on with little time left as one of our most creative players and yet there was a spell of about 2 minutes in which he received the ball on the half way line twice and did not look forward at all before playing a pass back to a defender / goalkeeper. Well done to him for completing those passes but I was absolutely fuming at the lack of positivity!

6. David - 05/07/2020

Just watched West ham draw with Newcastle. results aside, bmuff and Watford have looked the weakest. Even Norwich have looked more likely to win games. I wonder if Pearson is considering wholesale changes, for the next two games.

Mark Scholfield - 06/07/2020

Apart from the obvious who would bring in that is going to make any difference? Pedro, Peneranda, Success?

7. Simon - 06/07/2020

Finger crossed for Norwich on which you suspect everything else hangs. Win that and it boosts the chances of results in the next two. Lose and I could see us not picking up another point.

Of course, all a bit “shoulda, coulda, woulda” but you wonder how different the complexion would have been had we not shipped the two last minute winners v Villa and Everton (even forgetting that we’d led in both). That would have had us on 30 and Villa on 25 so four from our remaining fixures would most probably have been sufficient at this stage.

As an aside, lots of talk about needed clear outs, changes of manager etc… whether we stay up or go down. I can see a fair amount of change in the squad whatever happens but I’d be inclined to keep Pearson, not least because of the short close season. The timing doesn’t lend itself to a complete overhaul and change of manager all at once however much some/all of the change may be needed.

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