Chelsea got their top-four challenge back on track with a 3-0 victory over Watford at Stamford Bridge. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring for Frank Lampard’s side in the 28th minute after Ross Barkley produced a moment of brilliance to pick apart a massed defence.
Willian doubled the advantage just before half-time from the penalty spot after the excellent Christian Pulisic was brought down by a wild Etienne Capoue challenge. Barkely added the third in stoppage time to underline Chelsea’s dominance.
It was a comfortable victory for the home side after their disappointing defeat by West Ham United last week had threatened to derail their bid to secure a Champions League place. They moved back into fourth place in the Premier League, leapfrogging Manchester United.
Watford’s troubles deepened. They are one point above the drop zone and will need to improve on this performance if they are to ease their relegation worries. It was a toothless and clumsy effort from Nigel Pearson’s team. They offered little more than brawn and lacked ambition and conviction.
Right from the start Watford’s intentions were clear. Calls of “hold the line” and “drop in” echoed around the stadium and the team was set up to deny space to the home side’s attackers. Pulisic rose to the challenge and was at the heart of Chelsea’s inventiveness.
The American ran at the centre of the defence and beat two men but, by the time he got his head up, every avenue was blocked. The tone was set. Watford wanted to get bodies around Pulisic as quickly as possible.
The match settled into a pattern. Chelsea applied pressure and the height of their opponents’ ambition was a quick, physical counter-attack. The consequences were inevitable.
Willian shot straight at Ben Foster and Reece James caused trouble raiding down the right wing. The first real chance of the game came down the left, though. Pulisic slid a fine ball into the area and Giroud struck a good effort that Foster did well to block.
Mason Mount and Barkley sat a little too deep in the early exchanges but the pair combined nicely in the build up to the opening goal. Barkley pushed on and found a small seam between the Watford midfield and defence. Mount saw the gap and pinged a pass forward that seemed to carry too much weight. Barkley was prepared, though, and controlled the ball and turned in the same movement. He knocked a clever pass into Giroud’s path and the Frenchman screwed the ball across the face of the goal into the far corner of the net.
Chelsea deserved their lead even if much of their possession lacked authority and there was always a suspicion that a swift Watford counter could leave them in trouble. They needed a second goal. Ismalla Sarr raced forward and fizzed a ball across the Chelsea box. James had to be sharp to deflect the ball behind for a corner with Will Hughes lurking at the back post.
Two minutes before half time Chelsea got the cushion they needed. Pusilic drove into the box again but seemed to be well covered. Capoute could have stood off and narrowed down the winger’s options but instead went flying in and upended the 21-year-old. It was a clear penalty and Willian despatched the spot-kick into the top of the net expertly. Watford’s resistance was broken.
The second half was even more lopsided. Willian was enjoying himself. The Brazilian charged at the defence and slipped the ball to Giroud, who was frustrated to see his close-range attempt charged down by Foster. The goalkeeper again had to be sharp to turn a Willian shot around the post. Kurt Zouma powered in a header from the subsequent corner but it was straight at Foster
Pearson attempted to change the flow of the game by bringing on Adam Masina, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welback and Watford briefly showed signs of life. Sarr caused some consternation when he tried to find Welbeck at the near post and Masina got a shot on target from long, long range. It was Watford’s first. Masina then curled a tame free kick into Kepa Arrizabalaga’s hands. The Chelsea goalkeeper was also forced to make a save from Welbeck before the ball was scrambled away.
Yet it was too little too late. Watford will need more than late flurries to cement their place in the top flight.
Pulisic finished as he started, causing havoc in the opposition area. He went down under close attention from two defenders but VAR showed their was no foul. Moments later dribbled dangerously again.
Normal service had resumed. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, on as a substitute, should have scored from a James cross as Chelsea eased towards the final whistle. Barkley had the final say with a sharp shot from 12 yards out to make it 3-0. The midfielder deserved his reward. Lampard’s team are far from the finished product but they carry enough threat to achieve their top-four aims this season.