In this most open and unpredictable of Premier League campaigns, Chelsea and Watford’s contrasting fortunes are two of the best examples of how the usual order has been turned upside down. Surprisingly, it is the recently promoted visitors who go into this Boxing Day encounter as the form team (3pm, Saturday).
Chelsea’s 3-1 victory over Sunderland last time out was only the second time they have claimed all three points in eight Premier League encounters stretching all the way back to October. Under the guidance of interim boss Guus Hiddink (pictured), the champions played with much greater freedom against the Black Cats, with Oscar particularly impressive in his favoured No.10 role.
The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge on Saturday was mutinous, however, with Chelsea fans venting their anger at the sacking of Jose Mourinho two days previously. With the Blues languishing just one point above the relegation zone in 16th place, there was an air of inevitability about the Portuguese’s dismissal.
Many of the club’s supporters, though, clearly believe that some members of the squad contributed to that decision with their inexplicably poor performances and, in certain cases, a lack of effort and application. Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa seemed to be singled out for particular opprobrium, with long-serving defender Branislav Ivanovic also a target for criticism.
It will be interesting, then, to see how the home fans greet their players against Watford this weekend. Counterintuitively, another positive display and result could make things even worse as it would give greater strength to the argument that the squad was not giving their all under Mourinho. There will come a point, though, when Chelsea followers decide to back their team once more, with the popular Hiddink likely to act as a conciliatory figure as last season’s title-winners look to salvage some pride from what has hitherto been a completely disastrous campaign.
The opposite is true for Chelsea’s opponents, who are currently flying high in seventh place. Watford’s stunning 3-0 triumph over Liverpool at Vicarage Road on Sunday moved them just one point adrift of the Champions League places, an achievement that would likely be receiving more attention were it not for Leicester City’s extraordinary table-topping exploits.
The Hornets will therefore be full of confidence as they make the short trip to London on Saturday. After a narrow – and rather unfortunate – 2-1 loss at home to Manchester United in November, Watford have won all four of their subsequent Premier League encounters. They defeated Aston Villa, Norwich City and Sunderland before the aforementioned destruction of Jurgen Klopp’s side in their most recent outing.
Watford’s success this term has been built on a sturdy backline that has been breached on just 16 occasions; only Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United (all 14) have conceded fewer goals than Quique Sanchez Flores’ men. At the other end, Odion Ighalo is one of the hottest marksmen in the division right now: the Nigerian, who found the back of the net on 20 occasions in Watford’s promotion season last year, has scored 12 times in 17 Premier League appearances. He is the fourth highest goal-getter in the top flight behind Leciester pair Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez and Everton striker Romelu Lukaku.
Chelsea have no fresh fitness concerns ahead of the weekend’s clash. Radamel Falcao is likely to miss out, but Eden Hazard could return from the hip injury he sustained at Leicester two weeks ago. Watford will be without defenders Sebastian Prodl and Joel Ekstrand, meanwhile, but Flores otherwise has a full squad to choose from.
Our Chelsea v Watford Preview’s Betting Tips
In spite of their respective positions in the league table, Chelsea are the bookmakers’ favourites to emerge victorious at Stamford Bridge. Watford will fancy their chances of an upset, though, and this preview reckons a draw could be the best value bet, with Ighalo also worth backing to continue his fantastic scoring run.
- Betting Tip 1: Take Chelsea and Watford to draw at best odds of 18/5 (that is just over 7/2) with BetVictor.
- Betting Tip 2: This preview recommends a bet on Odion Ighalo to be first goalscorer, which is 10/1 best price with SkyBet. Those of a more conservative nature could substitute that bet for Ighalo to score at anytime, which is available at best 10/3 with SkyBet.