It is the penultimate Premier League game of the season this weekend. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton preview a Sunday afternoon encounter with the Hornets…
For most clubs the final few games of the season will have drained away like water circling a plughole, yet Chelsea remain contestants on two fronts. Other than the 2015/16 season there has been silverware to scrap for in April in every campaign since 2003/04.
Sunday afternoon brings Watford, one of this year’s FA Cup finalists, to the home of the current holders, with the hosts needing three points to stay ahead of our rivals for a top-four finish. The Blues are unbeaten at home to the Hornets since 1986.
This game comes in the middle of a European tie that will decide who reaches a major final, so we shall see whether Maurizio Sarri’s players have an Eintracht mind or can focus on securing Champions League football for the Bridge in 2019/20 with a merit place too.
After last weekend’s results, victory in the two remaining top-flight fixtures will secure Champions League football for Chelsea next season, no matter how our rivals fare. Four points could suffice depending on goal difference.
Form is over the last six matches home and away. *Can also qualify for 2019/20 Champions League by winning 2018/19 Europa League.
Chelsea have kept eight clean sheets in our past 12 matches at Stamford Bridge, conceding just five goals over that period.
— Key stat
After three league games without a win Chelsea must find a path to victory this weekend. The Londoners have won 10 and drawn six of the final home matches of the league campaign since a defeat by Aston Villa in May 2002.
Fixtures immediately following Europa League games have proved tricky this term, however. Since the knockout stage began, each of the Blues’ defeats in league or cup has followed a Thursday night game.
Following Shane Long’s recent record-breaking early pounce at Vicarage Road, timed at 7.69 seconds, both Sunday’s teams have visiting Southampton players to blame for their quickest Premier League goal conceded.
James Beattie scored for the Saints at the Bridge in August 2004 on 13.52 seconds, but equalised with an own-goal from a corner half an hour later in a 2-1 comeback win for the Blues.
Europa League catch-up
On Sunday evening, Eintracht Frankfurt travel to Leverkusen, a team three points behind them in the Bundesliga with three games left to play.
Last season Watford earned just five points from their final nine league fixtures, and they have lost five of their past nine going into this weekend. As a result, a win for Wolves at home to relegated Fulham on Saturday would end the Hornets’ hopes of a seventh-place finish, and perhaps allow Javi Gracia to rest players ahead of their FA Cup final appearance in a fortnight’s time
They take on Manchester City at Wembley knowing a win would guarantee them Europa League football in 2019/20, while defeat would hand the final European place to the team placed seventh. Up to 2015, when an already-qualified team won the cup, the runners-up were handed a Europa League ticket if they needed one. A rule change since then means that place has to be earned through qualification in the league.
There are other potential permutations with ramifications for others. Should Watford win the FA Cup, the Europa League group-stage place would be theirs and the team finishing sixth in the Premier League would have to play qualifying games in late July, disrupting pre-season plans. Victory on Sunday would virtually end any chance of that scenario affecting Chelsea.
The climax of the Championship season also takes place on Sunday. Norwich and Sheffield United have both already booked their return to the Premier League, but the fourth play-off participant is yet to be confirmed.
Derby County are closely monitored by Blues fans because of their Chelsea connections: coaches Frank Lampard and Jody Morris and the young loanees Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori, their Player of the Year.
This weekend the Rams host West Brom (whose top-six finish is already confirmed, along with Leeds and John Terry’s Aston Villa), knowing that if they match or better the results achieved on the road by Middlesbrough and Bristol City a play-off place is theirs.
Finally, at the end of Sunday’s game at Stamford Bridge, the last daytime match at the Bridge, the players would like to show their appreciation for your wonderful support throughout the campaign. The usual rules apply, so please stay off the pitch at all times.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS WEEKEND…
Still top four with one to play.
Premier League fixtures and result
Everton 2 Burnley 0
Bournemouth v Tottenham 12.30pm - Sky Sports
West Ham v Southampton 3pm
Wolves v Fulham 3pm
Cardiff v Crystal Palace 5.30pm - BT Sport
Newcastle v Liverpool 7.45pm - Sky Sports
Chelsea v Watford 2pm
Huddersfield v Manchester United 2pm - Sky Sports
Arsenal v Brighton 4.30pm - Sky Sports
Manchester City v Leicester 8pm - Sky Sports