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article imageGuus Hiddink's Chelsea hit a roadblock against resilient Watford

By Tyrrell Meertins     Feb 3, 2016 in Sports
Chelsea’s draw at Watford isn’t a negative result considering their inconsistent Premier League campaign, but Guus Hiddink’s men wasted another opportunity to move closer to the top half of the table.
Hiddink preferred caution at Vicarage Road with Cesc Fabregas sitting ahead of Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel, whereas Oscar was deployed on the left. However, Quique Sanchez Flores’s midfield diamond posed several issues for the Blues in the first half.
Watford has thrived through the direct combination play between Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, and though that partnership created promising half chances — with the former targeting Cesar Azpilicueta, whereas the latter briefly bullied John Terry — it was the manner in which the home side’s short intricate passes bypassed Chelsea’s midfield. Jose Manuel Jurado was the key man in the first half, as he freely drifted into pockets in central areas to retain possession, evade Chelsea’s sluggish midfield, and play positive passes.
One move in particular near the half hour mark witnessed Jurado evade Mikel’s challenge, before running past several Chelsea players to lay the ball off to the onrushing Etienne Capoue in half space, but the Watford midfielder’s shot was saved by Thibaut Courtois. Chelsea clearly encountered difficulties with Watford’s numerical advantage in midfield, as the away side’s defensive shape was fairly poor.
"I'm very happy. After 10 minutes we played really well in the first half, we controlled the ball and had good chances,” Flores stated.
"To score a point against Chelsea is really nice and we have shown we can get points against big teams.”
Elsewhere, Chelsea struggled to create goal-scoring chances, as Watford goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes comfortably dealt with the Blues’ main attacking ploy — Willian’s tame crosses from the right flank. Matic and Azpilicueta’s pressure resulted in the latter poking a shot wide of the net, whereas Diego Costa’s battle with the Watford centre-backs was ineffective.
Under former manager Jose Mourinho, Chelsea would rely on quick counter-attacks in transition, but that approach has been partially abandoned since the Portuguese manager’s departure. Oscar’s first half long ball over the Watford defence for Costa epitomized the ideal Chelsea attack — Hiddink’s approach emphasizes the importance of Fabregas’ passing, Costa’s running and brute strength, along with Oscar’s tenacious invention.
There was a vast improvement in Chelsea’s second half display, as Flores’ men were unable to sustain their dynamic midfield pressing. Fabregas adopted deeper midfield positions to clip passes over the Watford defence for Costa and Oscar. Meanwhile, though Costa’s movement into the channels was exceptional throughout, the Spanish international’s productivity around the Watford box was profligate.
Fabregas’ passing from deep areas combined with Oscar’s work-rate and guile was pivotal to Chelsea’s second half dominance, but Gomes’ heroics were decisive. First, substitute Eden Hazard directed Willian’s pass into half space for Branislav Ivanovic, who fired a powerful effort at Gomes. Then, the Watford keeper pushed aside Costa’s point-blank header, courtesy of a venomous Willian cross.
"We are playing better and better every week. I like to see. How the team is playing, especially in the last 20-25 minutes when we pushed," he said.
"Once more I think my old goalie from a previous spell, Gomes, got a big reward, otherwise I think we would have won easily."
Where Hiddink only utilized Hazard off the bench, Flores didn’t risk the possibility of losing, and moved to a 4-5-1 with Almen Abdi replacing Jurado. The alteration didn’t necessarily prevent Chelsea from creating chances, and with energy levels decreasing, sloppy passes being played, and non-existent width from the full-backs, Flores’ men rarely posed a threat.
Maximizing Costa and Fabregas’ strengths signify Hiddink’s master plan during his second interim spell at Stamford Bridge, but here, Gomes prevented the Blues from claiming maximum points.
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