Chelsea defence gives solid display in scoreless draw at Watford
Chelsea stretched their unbeaten run to 10 games with a 0-0 draw at Watford that will not live long in the memory.
A turgid first half saw Chelsea dominate possession for large swathes but fail to create anything meaningful where it really counted. Their principal tactic seemed to be to get the ball to Diego Costa as early as possible, resulting in Cesc Fabregas sending a series of long passes over the top of the defence while Branislav Ivanovic crossed the ball at the first opportunity to try to find the centre-forward.
Despite the aerial barrage, only once did a chance present itself, with Costa showing his strength to send a shot bobbling just past the far post. In truth it was Watford who created the better openings in the first half without fully extending Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who was forced to punch one header and parry a shot.
The home side's high intensity pressing game seemed to catch up with them in the second half and Chelsea found far more room to play. Chances were still at a premium, however, and it was a surprise that it took until the 73rd minute to introduce Eden Hazard from the substitutes' bench. His appearance made an immediate difference with defenders suddenly aware of another major threat to account for.
It also brought Willian further into the game and allowed Fabregas to direct the play with Chelsea now looking like the only team likely to win the game. Unfortunately Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes was in sparkling form and got in the way of point-blank efforts from both Costa and Ivanovic to ensure the points were shared.
Player ratings (1-10, 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 7 -- Had two regulation saves to make and that was about it. Will need to work on kicking with his right foot after two errant clearances almost put his teammates in trouble.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta 7 -- Made a questionable start with a rash clearance and a few misplaced passes. Grew into the game as it progressed largely due to him curbing his attacking forays and focusing on the defence.
DF Branislav Ivanovic, 7 -- Another to have a slightly rocky start after being troubled by the trickery of Jose Jurado and the pace of Jose Holebas, though he still proved indomitable in the air. His forward play improved in the second half and he will still be shaking his head at how Gomes kept out his fierce close-range shot.
DF John Terry, 7 -- Found Odion Ighalo difficult to handle as Watford enjoyed a spell of pressure early on. That threat dissipated as the game wore on and Terry found himself further upfield, aiding the search for a winner.
DF Kurt Zouma, 7 -- His pace was once again invaluable to ward off the danger posed by Ighalo. Enjoyed a quiet second half as Chelsea dominated the ball.
MF Nemanja Matic, 6 -- Had a few positional problems during the opening 45 minutes, but that seemed to be rectified at half-time. Had much more influence after being played further forward in the second half in order to press the ball higher up the pitch and help prise open the Watford defence.
MF John Obi Mikel, 6 -- Not as commanding as in recent weeks and struggled with the movement of the impish Jurado. Struck an effort from long-range that caught a deflection and forced Gomes to tip the ball over the bar.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 6 -- An up and down game for the Spaniard, who provided most of the telling passes but also gave the ball away on countless occasions. Was unable to find the same type of space that he enjoyed in the recent wins over Arsenal and MK Dons.
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FW Willian, 6 -- Actually played rather well but was criminally underused, especially in the first half when the ball was continually launched at Costa rather than moved wide. Came into his own in the dying minutes but without enough time to make the difference.
FW Oscar, 7 -- Fresh from his hat-trick against MK Dons, he was at the centre of most of Chelsea's better moments in the opening hour with plenty of clever turns and tricks. Posed a goal threat also with one toe poke going just wide and another right-footed drive pushed around the post.
FW Diego Costa, 7 -- Not for the first time, he found himself naively dragged into a scrap for which he got harshly booked following some theatrics with Juan Carlos Paredes. However, his movement was excellent and he drew a fantastic save out of Gomes as the clock ticked down.
FW Eden Hazard, NR -- Did not set the world alight when he came on in the 73rd minute for Matic, but his mere presence put the hosts on the backfoot and filled his teammates with the urgency to push forward. Will be frustrated that a heavy touch thwarted his chance to have a clear shot at goal.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.