Chelsea will be only the third opponent for Premier League new boy Javi Gracia, who replaced Marco Silva as Watford coach on 21 January. A defensive midfielder and well-travelled coach, the Spaniard’s most recent port of call was Rubin Kazan. The Volgans were ninth in Russia’s 16-team Premier League when he departed by mutual consent last year.
Gracia has never previously encountered the Blues, but the 47-year-old has a reputation for meticulous preparations and appears happy to change his tactics according to the opposition. Such adaptability may ease his initiation into England’s top flight, but his injury-ravaged team are in a difficult run of form.
The Hertfordshire club remain 11th going into this weekend, four points above the bottom three, despite losing eight of their past 12 league games and winning one.
Gracia’s first match in charge was a 0-1 FA Cup defeat at Southampton in which the visitors edged possession, and the second, away to Stoke on Wednesday, was a goalless draw. The Hornets managed two shots on target in each outing.
Watford’s late January signings may indicate the squad requirements he quickly identified. Defensive midfielder Didier Ndong has arrived from Sunderland, where he was the club record signing in 2016. Anderlecht’s Belgium Under-21, Dodi Lukebakio, and Gerard Deulofeu, previously of Everton, on loan from Barcelona, are both wingers.
Chelsea’s latest new arrivals were introduced the crowd at half-time on Wednesday. Emerson Palmieri, a pacy, skilful, Sao Paulo-born left-back, partnered Toni Rudiger at previous club Roma. Injury ruled the 23-year-old out for much of this season and he is eligible to play for the Blues in the Champions League. Incidentally, the Brazilian-Italian joins with pre-WW1 half-back George Lake and current Derby loan Kasey Palmer, to complete the famous prog-rock group, ELP – ask your parents.