Saturday 25 November 2017

Costa saves day again as Conte's gritty Chelsea sink Watford

Watford 1-2 Chelsea

Diego Costa thanks the Chelsea fans Photo: PA
Diego Costa thanks the Chelsea fans Photo: PA

Dominic Fifield

A week into his Premier League career and Antonio Conte must be growing used to his side doing things the hard way. Chelsea had laboured for long periods and trailed deservedly for a while, before their new manager flung on fresh legs, tweaked his system and eventually matched the late victory from his first game in charge. A pristine start has been maintained.

This was a demonstration of the quality within their ranks. Conte had already seen his £33.1m substitute Michy Batshuayi haul Chelsea level when Cesc Fabregas, whose influence after springing from the bench was key, conjured one of those glorious assists which had so illuminated this team's title-winning campaign two seasons ago. His clipped delivery from deep by-passed Watford's backline and sent Diego Costa scurrying through.

Eden Hazard takes a shot for Chelsea Photo: Reuters / Tony O'Brien
Eden Hazard takes a shot for Chelsea Photo: Reuters / Tony O'Brien

The striker's finish beyond the advancing Heurelho Gomes was crisp and accurate and, for the second time in five days, the Spain forward had a late winner to celebrate. Conte will have been dissatisfied by plenty that his side had offered up here, but that was briefly forgotten in the drama at the finale. More significant, perhaps, was the reminder that Fabregas is capable of unlocking opponents even if he does not naturally fit the manager's all-action selection.

Watford, the better team for the first hour, had no answer to his class in possession.

This first away contest had posed a different kind of problem for Conte after the frenzy of Monday's derby win over West Ham. He confronted a compatriot in Walter Mazzarri, with whom he had endured a rather fractious relationship back in Italy when the pair had contested the Scudetto with Juventus and Napoli, with the root of their fall-out apparently Conte's eagerness to mirror his opposite number's three-man defence.

Mazzarri has brought that system with him to Hertfordshire and it was from the width provided by Jose Holebas and Nordin Amrabat that Watford threatened to prosper.

Watford's Odion Ighalo attempts to hold off Chelsea's N'Golo Kante and Branislav Ivanovic Photo: Reuters / Hannah McKay
Watford's Odion Ighalo attempts to hold off Chelsea's N'Golo Kante and Branislav Ivanovic Photo: Reuters / Hannah McKay

The home side were, for long periods, the more coherent in this contest. Adlene Guedioura, outstanding in combination with Amrabat, swung over a cross which looped beyond Troy Deeney to reach Etienne Capoue, unmarked on the far side of the penalty area. The angle was unkind but the Frenchman, benefiting from Gary Cahill's flicker of hesitation, collected and crunched a left-footed shot high into the top corner beyond Courtois' outstretched hand. It was Capoue's second goal in successive games. He had only scored once in his previous 57 outings.

The visitors had been all huff and puff, their rhythm utterly disjointed for all that Holebas had done well to scramble away one finely fizzed Eden Hazard centre as Costa threatened at his back.

Conte had cut a frustrated figure scowling from the sidelines as he pondered how to force Hazard and Costa more into the game. The Belgian's darts were generally generated from deep though, with Fabregas' introduction providing an answer as he occupied Watford's attentions. Hazard immediately found some space from which to make his mark.

It was Hazard's low shot which Heurelho Gomes could not gather cleanly, with the substitute Batshuayi on hand to ram in a first goal for his new club from the rebound. Thereafter, Chelsea poured forward with venom and there was an inevitability to Costa's late contribution. For Conte, celebrating wildly on the sidelines, this was history repeating itself.

Watford, deflated by the brutality of the comeback as Batshuayi crashed a late shot on to the bar, rather limped away from a contest they thought was theirs.


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