Chelsea on the cusp of securing Champions League football next season
Chelsea are within touching distance of returning to Champions League football next season after beating Watford 3-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-0 loss away to Bournemouth on Saturday opened the door for Chelsea to have a chance to go third in the Premier League table.
It was a quiet first-half for the Blues where the players were showing visible signs of tough match against Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Europa League earlier this week. And if not for Kepa Arrizabalaga’s incredible save – which is arguably the save of the season – the hosts would have gone in half-time behind.
Thankfully, Maurizio Sarri’s side exploded into life in the second-half thanks to goals from Ruben Loftus-Cheek, David Luiz and Gonzalo Higuaín.
This was very much down to the recalled Eden Hazard, who was in dazzling form on what could be his final league game in front of the Stamford Bridge crowd. His two assists from set-pieces lead to Chelsea scoring two goals in three minutes through headers by Loftus-Cheek (48) and Luiz (51).
Higuain then sealed the victory and the three points with a neat finish (75) from Pedro’s pass for his fifth goal for the club since joining on loan from Serie A side Juventus.
With the game won, there was time for Gary Cahill to say his goodbyes to the Stamford Bridge crowd. With his contract is up at the end of the season and with him expected to leave, Sarri brought on the club captain for the final few minutes to the delight of the fans.
Despite the result and positive second-half performance, Chelsea lost N’Golo Kanté after only 10 minutes with a muscle injury and now appears to be a major doubt for the second leg of their semi-final clash against Frankfurt on Thursday.
The win moves Chelsea one point ahead of Spurs and five points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal, who host Brighton later today, with Champions League qualification secured for the Blues if Arsenal fail to win.
Possession (%) – Chelsea 59%, Watford 41%
Shots – Chelsea 19, Watford 15
Shots on Target – Chelsea 9, Watford 3
Corners – Chelsea 6, Watford 6
Fouls – Chelsea 6, Watford 12
Offsides – Chelsea 1, Watford 3
Yellow/Red Cards – Chelsea 0/0, Watford 1/0
(Bonus Stat) Let’s have a double-dose shall we…
31 – Eden Hazard has been directly involved in 31 Premier League goals for Chelsea this season (16 goals, 15 assists). Only Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (32 – 2000-01), Frank Lampard (36 – 2009-10) and Didier Drogba (39 – 2009-10) have had a hand in more in a single campaign for Chelsea.
15 – Hazard’s 15 assists in the Premier League this season is the highest of any player in the top five leagues in Europe.
• Quiet first-half, brilliant second-half.
• Hazard is simply irreplaceable and will be sorely missed if he does leave for Real Madrid.
• With each passing game, Loftus-Cheek is showing why he must be a guaranteed starter for both club and country.
• Jorginho with another great display.
• Kepa’s world class could end up being vital to us securing Champions league football next season. It was that good.
• Kante’s injury will be a major concern for Frankfurt on Thursday.
• Cahill got the send-off that he deserved and Sarri should be given credit for that, despite the inappropriate timing and poor taste of words in an interview from the club captain.
Chelsea Player/Manager Ratings
Kepa – 8
Azpilicueta – 6
Christensen – 7
David Luiz – 7
Alonso – 6
Kanté – N/A
Jorginho – 8, MOTM.
Kovačić – 6
Pedro – 7
Higuaín – 6
Hazard – 8
Loftus-Cheek (10′ for Kanté) – 8
Giroud (79′ for Higuaín) – N/A
Cahill (89′ for David Luiz) – N/A
Maurizio Sarri – 8