Watford could end a promising first half of the Premier League season with victory at home to Chelsea at Vicarage Road on Boxing Day (7.30pm GMT Wednesday, live on Sky Sports).
It is necessary to go all the way back to the 1983-84 season to find the one and only previous occasion on which Watford were involved in European competition, but their campaign to date suggests that they have a solid chance of competing for qualification this time around.
Due to other European qualifiers winning both the FA Cup and the EFL Cup, a seventh-place finish in the league has yielded a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds in each of the last four seasons. That is the position that Watford currently occupy, although there are plenty of other sides with designs on knocking them from their perch.
It is a battle that is destined to go down to the wire. Just three points separate the six teams currently positioned between seventh and 12th in the table, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if things were just as tight come the end of the campaign. Everton, Bournemouth, Leicester, Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham are the others striving to top that group.
Watford secured a key result against another of those teams by winning 2-0 away at West Ham on Saturday. It was a pretty even match, with plenty of goalmouth action, but while West Ham’s best two efforts came back off the woodwork, Watford’s found the back of the net. A Troy Deeney penalty and late strike from Gerard Deulofeu saw them to victory.
The win also continued a pattern of strong results in London derbies for Javi Gracia’s side. They have won three, drawn one and lost one of their five such encounters so far this season and have a 100% record on home soil thanks to victories over Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur. Next up are a Chelsea side starting to waver a little after a good start.
Chelsea began the season with five straight victories under the stewardship of new coach Maurizio Sarri and didn’t suffer defeat until their 13th match of the campaign in what did seem to be an abnormally swift adjustment to an approach that was very different from that of Sarri’s predecessor and more defensively minded compatriot Antonio Conte.
A subsequent victory over Manchester City showed that Chelsea are still a strong side capable of largely bringing Sarri’s heavily possession-based approach to fruition. Three defeats in their last six in the league, and just six wins in their last 13, demonstrate that there is still a lot of work to do before they will be ready to challenge at the very top of the table.
In truth, Chelsea were a little unfortunate to suffer defeat at home to Leicester on Saturday. They enjoyed more attacking territory, struck the woodwork twice and probably created enough chances to feel they were at least deserving of a point. Leicester caused some problems on the break, and Chelsea struggled to react after going behind early into the second half – something that Sarri was himself quick to highlight afterwards.
Rumours abound that Chelsea are keen to add another striker to their squad in January, with Milan’s Gonzalo Higuain, who enjoyed a stellar season under Sarri’s command at Napoli, a prime candidate. That would perhaps provide a bit more of the cutting edge they have sometimes lacked in such circumstances.
Chelsea otherwise have a talented squad and are playing in a manner that will give them an excellent chance of ending up in the top four come the end of the season. That would represent an improvement on last season, when they finished fifth, but until everything is functioning smoothly, a certain degree of inconsistency should still be expected of them.
That does potentially leave Chelsea vulnerable to a negative result against a competitive team like Watford. Despite some patchy form of their own, Watford have already picked up some good results this season and are fully aware of how to make best use of their own virtues. Watford’s quest for Europe might just receive a further boost with victory on Boxing Day.
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- Bet on Watford to win @ best odds of 9/2 with Bet365. Latest match odds are below.
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