A game of two halves at Stamford Bridge saw Chelsea take all three points and move up to third in the Premier League with just one game remaining.
Arsenal failed to beat Brighton in the afternoon’s late kick-off, and with Man United dropping points as well, we are guaranteed Champions League football thanks to a hard-fought win against an impressive Watford side.
The scoreline suggests otherwise but the visitors had unmistakably been the better side in an opening 45 minutes in which we had Kepa Arrizabalaga to thank for a world-class save to deny Troy Deeney.
We have been criticised for starting well and ending games poorly in recent months but this afternoon it was exactly the opposite, and after the break we quickly took control with two goals in as many minutes, almost identikit headers from Ruben Loftus-Cheek and David Luiz, both from Eden Hazard crosses, before Gonzalo Higuain added the gloss with 15 minutes remaining.
The only dark cloud on a fine afternoon for the Blues was the injury sustained by N'Golo Kante in the early stages. We will have to hope it is not too serious with crucial games to come.
Maurizio Sarri made four changes to the side that started in Frankfurt on Thursday night, with Hazard, Higuain, Marcos Alonso and Mateo Kovacic all recalled as we looked for a win that could potentially secure Champions League football next season.
Tenth-placed Watford came into this game knowing they will record their highest-ever Premier League finish, guaranteed to finish somewhere between eighth and 12th in their first full campaign under Javi Gracia. The Spaniard was able to pick captain Deeney in attack following suspension. Former Blue Nathaniel Chalobah started in central midfield.
The visitors were the brighter side in the opening exchanges. Gerard Deulofeu flashed an effort just wide from distance before Deeney brought a stunning save from Kepa Arrizabalaga, who was at full stretch to tip the striker’s header onto the post and out.
The Blues were dealt a blow as early as the 10th minute when Kante went down injured and was unable to continue, with Loftus-Cheek selected to replace him in midfield. It would turn out to be another fantastic day for the in-form sub.
Our first goalscoring opportunity came a few minutes later after excellent link-up play between Hazard and Cesar Azpilicueta, the Belgian advancing into the area before laying off for Jorginho, whose first-time shot was beaten away by Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster.
At the other end, the Hornets continued to threaten, Deeney winning headers against the Blues’ centre-backs, flicking on for Deulofeu to shoot wide before Jose Holebas shot narrowly over. They were getting success going direct over the top of midfield or straight through along the ground, much to Sarri’s displeasure. There was no debating who the first 20 minutes belonged to, but importantly the goals column remained untouched.
Abdoulaye Doucoure became the next Watford man to get a sight at goal, Roberto Pereyra flicking the ball to the Frenchman inside the area, but Alonso did just enough to put him off his shot.
On the half-hour, we had a reasonable shout for a penalty as David Luiz tangled with Kiko Femenia inside the Watford area and went to ground. Referee Paul Tierney indicated no foul, but the moment prompted a better period for us as we began to take a hold of the game.
Before the break, we had gone close several times as Pedro chipped just over and then Hazard drove across the face of goal before Pedro again fizzed a shot just past Foster’s far post.
The second half began in similar fashion, Hazard dancing his way through a crowded area before testing Foster’s reflexes with a powerful drive the keeper turned around the post.
From the corner, we went ahead. Hazard took the kick short, exchanging passes with Pedro before lofting it to the far post, where Loftus-Cheek rose highest to head home from close range.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice but if you’re Watford’s defence, it certainly does, and within two minutes.
Kovacic won a corner as we countered quickly and this time, Hazard opted to cross directly, picking out David Luiz for his third goal of the season. Within five second-half minutes we had the game sewn up, and where Watford had looked dangerous in attack and organised at the back, they now looked incredibly vulnerable every time Chelsea came forward.
Deulofeu could have put them back in it but dragged a shot wide and then somehow we failed to score as Pedro, Loftus-Cheek and Higuain all went close, Foster making two excellent saves to keep the score down.
There was nothing he could do about our third goal, however, as Higuain grabbed his fifth for Chelsea, timing his run in behind and latching onto Pedro’s pass before clipping over Foster and into the empty net to secure a crucial victory.
Holebas almost pulled a goal back, shaving the top of the crossbar after the ref failed to call a foul on Kovacic, and then Watford had another ruled out for offside against substitute Isaac Success.
With the Bridge faithful in party mood, Olivier Giroud missed two good chances to get on the scoresheet before the introduction of a Chelsea legend, probably for the final time at this stadium.
Gary Cahill has won it all over seven years as a Blue, and received a fantastic reception from all four sides of the ground when he replaced David Luiz in the closing stages, receiving greater cheers when he headed away a late Watford corner.
Attention now turns to the Europa League where we have the chance to book our place in the final on Thursday night, while in the Premier League, we have almost secured that all-important top-four finish.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen, David Luiz (Cahill 89), Alonso; Kante (Loftus-Cheek 10), Jorginho, Kovacic; Pedro, Higuain (Giroud 79), Hazard
Unused subs Caballero, Zappacosta, Barkley, Willian.
Scorers Loftus-Cheek 49, David Luiz 51, Higuain 75
Watford (4-2-2-2): Foster; Femenia, Mariappa, Cathcart, Holebas; Doucoure, Chalobah (Cleverley 67); Hughes, Pereyra; Deulofeu (Success 83), Deeney (Gray 83)
Unused Subs Gomes, Janmaat, Masina, Kabasele.
Booked Doucoure 90
Referee Paul Tierney