Jose Mourinho insists his squad is strong enough to sustain Chelsea’s challenge in the second half of the season, despite 45 minutes that suggested quite the opposite.
Mourinho made eight changes for the visit of Watford, a competent Championship side whose ambitions realistically extend as far as a play in the play-offs. Yet they made the Portuguese unfamiliar line-up look desperately ordinary before the half-time introduction of Diego Costa and Willian restored order.
With two of his trusted key players back in the line-up, the Blues moved through the gears and eventually overwhelmed the visitors. Willian struck in the 56th minute to break the deadlock before Loic Remy and Kurt Zouma quickly added goals that ensured there was no risk of a nervy finale.
Chelsea, then, continue to challenge on four fronts with Mourinho confident of the resources at his disposal, with only Andre Schurrle coming in for some heavily disguised criticism.
The margin of victory was enough to ensure the manager had no need to repeat his recent habit of questioning why his team has not been getting key decisions in the favour, albeit at the second attempt.
Interviewed first on television, Mourinho raised the issue of the failure of referee Kevin Friend not to blow for a penalty immediately before Remy scored the second. “Today it is the third consecutive match and the third penalty,” he said. “It was a clear penalty, a clear penalty. We are lucky Remy scored. But it is the third penalty in three matches, Southampton, Tottenham and Watford.”
But the Chelsea manager later back-tracked and apologised to the match official. “Today we had a big penalty in our favour and I was speaking with the referee and I want to apologise for my earlier comments with TV. Because what he did was great refereeing,” said Mourinho.
“He saw that it was a penalty. He was going to give a penalty. But he saw that the ball was going to Remy and he waited a couple of seconds. He told me that if Remy did not control the ball well, or if the ball goes over the bar or the ball is lost, then he says he would have given the penalty. So it was good refereeing. I was complaining but it was good refereeing by Kevin.”
He was equally forgiving of his fringe players. “We don’t want to throw away any competition,” he said. “We have to do what we did today, make some changes, keep some players on the bench. The other players are fine. And we are doing fine. Today I could give total rest to some. I could leave on the bench Matic and Ivanovic without playing one single minute. And I will do the same with the others. Maybe next time Diego is the one not selected, or Cahill.”
It seems unlikely Schurrle will be selected next time. The Germany international has been off form since the World Cup and this time made way for Willian after an unimpressive first half.
“Sometimes I do things the players don’t like because it is part of the job,” he said. “But at half-time I want to win the game and I made a couple of changes and I tried to change a couple of players, and the system and the dynamic. Ad at this moment I forget individuals, I just do what I think is the best for the team.”
After struggling to make inroads during the opening half, Willian finally added some zest to Chelsea’s play and put them ahead with a well-struck long-range drive. With momentum now with them, the home side moved through the gears and were two up when Remy volleyed home after Diego Costa’s shot looped up off Craig Cathcart’s arm.
Zouma capped a fine individual display with a towering header to ensured there would be no need for a dressing room inquest.
“I can’t be happy because we lost the game, but my team made a good performance,” said Watford manager Salvisa Jokanovic. “The arrival of Willian changed the speed and we started suffering more and this player scored a fantastic first goal. At the end, I must be happy with the performance of my players.”
CHELSEA (4-2-3-1): Cech 8; Azpilicueta 6, Cahill 7, Zouma 8, Filipe Luis 6; Ramires 5, Mikel 5; Remy 7, Oscar (Diego Costa 46, 8), Schurrle 4 (Willian 46,9); Drogba 7 (Ake 80, 6)
WATFORD (3-5-2): Bond 8; Hoban 6, Cathcart 7, Angella 6; Paredes 6, Munari 7 (Murray 83,6), Tozser 7 (Abdi 73,6), Forestieri 7, Pudil 6; Ighalo 7 (Vydra 65, 6), Deeney 8.
Referee: Kevin Friend.