The team in fourth take on the team fourth from bottom this weekend. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton quickly turn their attention from West Ham to Watford…
This is only the second match behind closed doors at the Bridge and, with just six league games to go, it suddenly feels huge. Players and supporters are hurting after the setback at West Ham and now Chelsea face Watford in the latest ever domestic Saturday kick-off time in our history, coinciding with public houses in London opening their doors for the first time since March.
The government advice to pubs who are screening live football is actually to ‘have the sound on quietly to stop droplets spreading when people shout.’ After Wednesday’s setback, though, it would be good to have a result worth shouting about (while wearing a face mask).
Skipper Cesar Azpilicueta has rallied his troops, saying ‘I cannot wait to go back to work and train, to play the next game, because I feel personally very bad and very frustrated’ and Christian Pulisic, unfortunate to end on the losing side, vowed it is ‘time to turn it around Saturday’.
Footballers are not automata, though, and the intensity of fixtures has been unrelenting. Manchester United and Wolves are the only top-half teams yet to lose since the Premier League resumed.
Recent encounters with Watford in SW6 offer encouragement the Blues can surge back. Since 2004 they have played eight matches in all competitions at the Bridge, drawing one and losing seven. The aggregate score in those games is Chelsea 29, Watford 7.
Chelsea’s past seven Premier League meetings with Watford have featured an average of 4.28 goals per game.
— Key Stat
Lessons from the London Stadium
In the best moments against West Ham, Chelsea were whisking the ball off opponents’ toes and weaving it through the lines of a dense defence, playing with pace and dynamism. But the Blues have attempted the second most shots in the top flight, and are the fourth highest goalscorers. Frank Lampard will have been equally concerned at the inability to deal with lone striker Michail Antonio, and even more so at his team’s jittery defence of set-plays.
Coaches of our forthcoming opponents may be underlining in their notes to use a deep block to frustrate the Blues, then initiate rapid counter attacks, and win as many corners and free-kicks as possible.
Only Aston Villa, Norwich and Arsenal have conceded more from corners and free-kicks in the league than Chelsea (12), but then no team has netted fewer from set-pieces than Watford, with three. Villa (with seven) are also the only Premier League side this season to have conceded more goals from counter-attacks than the Blues’ six.
Perhaps the Blues coach will look to freshen up the tactical approach, too. On several occasions Lampard has switched from the usual 4-3-3 formation to 3-4-2-1, a system that earned three points at Wolves and home and away to Tottenham.
With his brace on Wednesday Willian became the first player in the English top flight to hit the net in every month of the year. His second was Chelsea’s only direct free-kick goal of the league campaign so far, and his first since the opener at Stoke in March 2017.
No Blues player scored straight from a set-play in the league last season; the most recent to do so was Marcos Alonso with the winner at home to Southampton in December 2017.
The Brazilian has also equalled his highest goals tally in a league season since joining the Blues in 2013, which is eight, set in 2016/17. The most the winger has recorded in all competitions for the Blues was 13 the following season; so far this campaign he has hit 10, plus seven assists.
Watford’s third man
Chelsea have a 100 per cent win rate against Watford’s coach Nigel Pearson from his days at Leicester, the last of which, in April 2015, was the most memorable. Not only did the 3-1 victory leave Jose Mourinho’s team needing just one more win to scoop the title for the fifth time (which duly came at home to Palace four days later), but Leicester were still threatened with relegation.
The pressure showed during the post-match conferences when Pearson responded to a local reporter’s question with his famous ‘You are an ostrich, you have your head in the sand’ line. He later apologised and, since becoming the third man in the Hornets’ hot seat this season, has shown himself a more calm and considered presence in difficult times for everyone.
When he arrived in early December the Hornets were bottom, two points adrift, but he gradually steered them to 17th before the lockdown – including the first defeat inflicted on Liverpool, 3-0.
His record in Hertfordshire now reads played 18, won 5, drawn 5, lost 8, though a recent slump of no wins in three (four of you count the last game before the lockdown) has left them unable to climb away from the jaws of relegation in 16th.
The Hornets have lost some of their sting in the absence of creative forward Gerard Deulofeu, tricky winger Isaac Success and attacking right-back Daryl Janmaat. Even under pressure the same strong principles apply, though: when four players broke social distancing rules and partied, they were instantly dropped for the Southampton game, which became a potentially damaging 3-1 loss.
Mind the gaps
Watford have had a week to rest and prepare for this match but the arduous schedule does not let up for Chelsea. The challenging two-free-day gaps between action continue until Palace on Tuesday. Then there will be three free days either side of the game at Sheffield United, and ahead of our semi-final with Manchester United. The match is scheduled for 6pm on Sunday 19 July at Wembley, and is live on BBC One. The rearranged date for Liverpool away is the league is yet to be announced.
Frank Lampard and his staff used downtime during the lockdown to reflect and tweak their approach, and worked on the right balance between tactical and physical improvement during the short pre-season before restart. During the current hectic period it must be more a case of video and analysis sessions because the players cannot be pushed too hard on the training ground.
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Empty stands do influence outcomes
Now that the Bundesliga has ended we can perceive patterns from the matches played to empty stadiums, and it was visiting teams who were the beneficiaries of the eery silence.
According to analysis by Gracenote, home victories dropped to 33 per cent of results from the previous 43 per cent with supporters present, and host players were much more likely to be pulled up for fouls and cautioned than was the case when the crowd had an influence.
Contrary to popular belief, but backing up what Frank Lampard has said of his squad, players can summon their own intensity without the ‘12th man’ driving them on. Statistics measuring vigour, such as sprints or high-intensity runs, have shown an increased number without fans in German grounds.
However, in the Bundesliga there were fewer dribbles and shots on goal – the really crowd-pleasing aspects – and a more considered build-up.
After a meeting of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) on Tuesday it was confirmed that the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, originally scheduled for January in Cameroon, has been put back a year to January 2022 as a consequence of the global coronavirus pandemic.
The postponement is helpful to Chelsea as it means new signing Hakim Ziyech could have an uninterrupted first season with the Blues in 2020/21. The Moroccan has been capped 32 times for his country.
He and Timo Werner will undertake different individual training plans once they have arrived at Cobham, and will eventually start integrating with their new team-mates ahead of next season.
Germany national team director Oliver Bierhoff is already pleased with Werner’s move. ‘I believe that Timo’s obsessive quest for goals and his ambitiousness will help him settle quickly,’ he said this week. ‘He doesn’t look left or right too much, he’s focused on scoring and performing well. And with his pace, he will score goals in England, I’m sure.’
Special matchday programme
No collector likes a gap in their run of programmes, and lots of people have been asking about matchday programmes following the restart. We are happy to say that a single issue of 132 pages is available to order and will be sent out after the final home game against with Wolves.
Unlike those of other clubs, Chelsea’s bumper edition is timed to reflect on all four games at the Bridge in one publication, and includes your usual favourite features. You may pre-order your copy and there are details here.
Stadiums still locked down
Once again, supporters are reminded that despite the opening up in some quarters, the coronavirus is still very much amongst us, and Stamford Bridge on match day remains closed to everyone except essential staff, media, players, coaches, and officials. Please do not congregating in areas around the ground.
Premier League fixtures
Norwich v Brighton 12.30pm (BT Sport)
Leicester v Crystal Palace 3pm (Sky Sports)
Man Utd v Bournemouth 3pm (BT Sport)
Wolves v Arsenal 5.30pm (Sky Sports)
Chelsea v Watford 8pm (Sky Sports)
Burnley v Sheffield Utd 12pm (Sky Sports)
Newcastle v West Ham 2.15pm (Sky Sports)
Liverpool v Aston Villa 4.30pm (Sky Sports)
Southampton v Man City 7pm (BBC One)
Tottenham v Everton 8pm (Sky Sports)
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