London: Michy Batshuayi stepped off the bench to inspire Chelsea’s fightback as Antonio Conte’s side eased the pressure on their manager with a hard-fought 4-2 victory over Watford on Saturday.
Conte’s position has come under scrutiny after back-to-back Premier League defeats and claims of player unrest over his training methods.
The Italian appeared set for another difficult afternoon when Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure and Roberto Pereyra overturned Pedro’s glorious opening goal for the hosts.
But Batshuayi, on for Alvaro Morata, kickstarted the comeback in the 71st minute before completing the win with a second in the fifth minute of added time after Cesar Azpilicueta had restored Chelsea’s lead.
A difficult week would have got a lot worse for Conte had Chelsea suffered a third successive league defeat for the first time since the final months of Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge two years ago.
Pedro’s 12th-minute effort provided the perfect start for the champions, although Watford were convinced the opportunity should never arisen.
Referee Jon Moss awarded a corner after the ball appeared to go out off the foot of Eden Hazard.
Hazard collected a short corner from Cesc Fabregas and pulled the ball back into the path of Pedro, who whipped in a curling, right-foot shot that clanged into the net off Heurelho Gomes’s right-hand post.
Chelsea should have doubled their lead in the 17th minute when Morata’s cross sent Fabregas clear with only Gomes to beat, but he managed only to chip the ball into the keeper’s arms. Watford were fortunate to escape, but having survived, they began to gain a foothold in the game.
Confirmation Conte’s side had lost their grip came in the second minute of first-half injury time when Doucoure fired home with a first-time shot after David Luiz failed to clear Jose Holebas’s long throw.
The equaliser shifted the mood inside the stadium and there were sounds of dissent from the home supporters as the two teams left the pitch. The opening moments of the second half suggested worse was to come, with Richarlison somehow managing to steer Kiko Femenia’s excellent low cross wide from just six yards out.
Fortunately for the highly rated Brazilian, he atoned quickly by teeing up Pereyra for a goal that put Marco Silva’s men ahead.
Tiemoue Bakayoko had been a doubt before the game and the Chelsea midfielder, poor throughout, was slow to react when he was dispossessed by Pereyra in the middle of the pitch.
The Watford midfielder pressed forward and when the ball found its way to Richarlison wide on the left via Troy Deeney, the Brazilian picked out the unmarked Pereyra, who finished impressively from 12 yards.
Had Richarlison not missed a second clear chance — this time a free header from five yards out — the game might have been over.
Desperate to inject fresh energy into his side, Conte introduced Batshuayi for Morata and the decision was rewarded when the Belgium striker headed home from Pedro’s 71st-minute cross. The match could have gone either way, with Watford’s Christian Kasabele guilty of missing two free headers.
But it was Azpilicueta who delivered the telling blow, heading home Willian’s cross in the 87th minute to ease the pressure around Stamford Bridge, before Batshuayi wrapped things up. — AFP