Good evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's Premier League clash between Watford
at Vicarage Road. Four points and four places separate these two sides in the table heading into this match, and that could increase to seven on both counts should the hosts emerge victorious. No side has beaten Hiddink's Chelsea yet this term, though. Let's start with a look at the two teams...
WATFORD STARTING XI: Gomes; Paredes, Prödl, Cathcart, Holebas; Behrami, Watson, Capoue; Jurado; Deeney, Ighalo
WATFORD SUBS: Pantilimon, Nyom, Anya, Suarez, Guedioura, Abdi, Amrabat
CHELSEA STARTING XI: Courtois; Ivanovic, Zouma, Terry, Azpilicueta; Mikel, Matic; Willian, Fabregas, Oscar; Diego Costa
CHELSEA SUBS: Begovic, Cahill, Baba Rahman, Loftus-Cheek, Kenedy, Traore, Hazard
What can we make of those two teams, then? Well, there are no major surprises from either camp, with Quique Flores
bringing a number of first-team players back in following their FA Cup involvement at the weekend. There are only two changes from their last Premier League game, with Britos missing out through illness and Nathan Ake ineligible to play against his parent club. From the win over Newcastle, Prodl and Holebas come in for them.
Prodl was part of the defence that kept a clean sheet against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup on Saturday, however, and he once again partners Cathcart in central defence this evening. Nyom drops to the bench to be replaced by Paredes, while Holebas, as mentioned, is in for Ake. There is also a change between the sticks as first choice Gomes returns in goal, with January signing Costel Pantilimon among the subs.
Also among the subs for the Hornets today are a couple of other new faces. Nordin Amrabat started at the weekend but barely got a minute of action against Newcastle a week before that, and so is yet to truly get time on the field in the Premier League. Mario Suarez, meanwhile, could make his debut for the club following a £4m move from Fiorentina. He has to settle for a place on the bench to start with, as Behrami, Capore and Jurado all return to the starting XI, but he is expected to feature.
There is no doubt as to the stars for Watford this season, though. Deeney and Ighalo are arguably the most potent attacking duo in the league at the moment, scoring 20 of Watford's 27 league goals between them. Deeney has usual acted as the provider, laying on 26 goalscoring chances for Ighalo in the Premier League so far - more than any other player has laid on for a teammate in the entire division. Six of those have resulted in assists, while Ighalo has also netted seven times in his last seven league games at Vicarage Road.
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Charged with stopping them this evening will be the Chelsea defence once again led by John Terry
. I will talk more about the Blues' skipper a little later, but it is bound to be an emotional occasion for him as he makes his first appearance for the club since announcing that he will leave at the end of the campaign. Ivanovic, who was curiously handed a new deal when Terry was not, is the only other member of the back four to maintain his place from the weekend.
That means that Gary Cahill, who was linked with a move away during January, and Baba Rahman drop to the bench to be replaced by Zouma and Azpilicueta - a return to what appears to be Guus Hiddink
's favoured back four. They will be protected tonight by the defensive shield of Matic and Mikel, and the fact that Hiddink is playing both of those is a big compliment to the danger posed by Watford. Both are defensive-minded players and certainly a more negative choice than having Fabregas in there.
Instead, Fabregas has been pushed further up the field this evening alongside Willian and Oscar in the trio behind the striker. That, of course, means that there is no room for Eden Hazard, who interestingly drops to the bench despite having finally opened his account for the season against MK Dons at the weekend. The hero of that match was Oscar, who netted a first-half hat-trick and then allowed Hazard to take the penalty from which he ended his duck, and it is no surprise to see his compatriot Willian return alongside him. There were doubts over his fitness due to a bruised foot, but he has been deemed fit to replace Loftus-Cheek in the team.
Leading the line, as ever is Diego Costa, who wasn't on the scoresheet at the weekend but has still scored six goals in seven matches under Guus Hiddink - a far cry from the form he showed under Mourinho during the first half of the season. He remains Chelsea's only real attacking option through the middle, at least when it comes to recognised centre-forwards, with Remy and Falcao - both of whom were linked with a deadline day move away from Stamford Bridge - currently injured. Pato, meanwhile, is not yet at match fitness.
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An in-form Costa is certainly not an easy thing for defenders to deal with, and Watford know that more than most having conceded two goals to him a little over a month ago. However, the Hornets will still be confident heading into this match having impressed so far this season, and victory tonight would send them as high as seventh in the table. Any finish in the top half would be a major achievement, but the European places are not yet out of bounds.
There was once even talk of a top-four push when Watford's 3-0 victory over Liverpool made it four wins on the bounce in the final match before Christmas, but their form has stuttered somewhat since then. They picked up just one points from the next 15 on offer in the Premier League - with that coming against tonight's opponents - and slipped back down into the bottom half of the table as a result. It was a reminder to the Hornets that things can change in an instant when it comes to the top flight.
It may have also reminded them that relegation is still not impossible. It does, however, look more and more improbable as the weeks go by. Watford returned to winning ways by beating Newcastle 2-1 11 days ago, ending a run of four straight defeats and taking them 11 points clear of the relegation zone. It is a position that they certainly would have taken at this stage of the campaign had they been offered it before the season began, but another poor spell of form could have them looking over their shoulders again.
Right now, though, things are looking very promising for Quique Flores
. Watford have already amassed 32 points this season, meaning that they need just eight from the final 15 games to reach the fabled safety mark of 40 points - something you'd have to say looks very likely to happen. Indeed, their current points tally is the best at this stage of a season from a newly promoted side since Birmingham City amassed 34 points from their opening 23 games in the 2009-10 campaign.
With that striking duo of Deeney and Ighalo, they seem as though they certainly have the goals to keep them away from danger, although they may need other players to step up too if they are to climb much higher. Only Stoke have scored fewer goals in the top half of the table, and the situation is even worse when it comes to their home form. Only struggling duo Swansea and Aston Villa have found the back of the net fewer times in front of their own fans this season, with Watford having scored more goals away from home, and in fewer games too.
They have been pretty sound defensively for the most part - only five teams in the entire league have conceded fewer goals, and they have kept clean sheets in half of their home matches this season - but home and away they have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last six Premier League outings. They did keep the opposition at bay on Saturday, however, edging Championship side Nottingham Forest 1-0 courtesy of Ighalo's late winner to send them into the last 16 of the FA Cup.
Victory tonight would give the Hornets consecutive home victories in the Premier League for only the second time ever, with the first also coming this season when they beat Norwich and Liverpool in succession. They have won four of their last six home matches too, and have not been beaten at Vicarage Road by a side who were in the bottom half at the time - a position Chelsea currently occupy.
Chelsea's bottom-half status is more to do with their form over the first half of the campaign than it is their recent form, though. The Blues have improved under Guus Hiddink and, while the results are still not exactly perfect, nor even good enough to see them climb into the top half, the defeats have at least stopped. They come into this match unbeaten in their last nine outings, since Mourinho left the club, with eight of those coming under Hiddink. Their ongoing seven-match unbeaten Premier League streak was the joint-longest in the division before yesterday's matches.
For once, though, the main focus tonight will not be on Chelsea's form. Instead, much of it will be on John Terry
, who begins his long goodbye at Vicarage Road tonight. It came as a big surprise when he announced that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season, insisting that his career would not have a "fairytale ending". Chelsea have since seemingly kept the door open for further negotiations, so his fate may not yet be completely sealed, but it does appear as though he is heading for the exit.
If that is the case, the skipper deserves all of the plaudits that will come his way over the closing months of the campaign. Tonight will be his 607th appearance for the club, during which time he has helped them to 14 major honours, including four league titles and the Champions League. He is arguably the finest defender the Premier League has ever seen - not to mention the highest-scoring one - and he will certainly be a loss to the Blues.
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Whatever happens during the remainder of this season, it is unlikely to be an end befitting of Terry's career. His side remain down in 14th place, a full 17 points off the top four and just seven above the relegation zone. As mentioned, things are improving under Hiddink, and they could climb up to 11th with a win tonight, but it looks to be too little too late to salvage anything from their Premier League campaign at least.
Remarkably, a win tonight would see them clinch back-to-back league victories for the first time all season, and three consecutive wins in all competitions for only the second time this season. No-one would have guessed that it would take until February - perhaps even beyond - for Chelsea to string two league wins together, but then this has been a very unpredictable season. Chelsea themselves are a little unpredictable right now, with just two wins and four draws from their six league outings under Hiddink, but they looked more like their old selves last time out.
That came against MK Dons in the FA Cup and, while it may have only been Championship opposition, Chelsea's performance was still impressive. They scored five times at Stadium:mk, including a first-half hat-trick for Oscar and a first goal of the season for Hazard. It was almost the perfect day for Hiddink and handed him a third straight away victory in all competitions - they haven't won four on the bounce in two years.
Chelsea's away form has improved markedly since Hiddink took charge, with the Dutchman presiding over three wins and a draw from four games so far. His three Premier League away games have yielded seven points in comparison to Mourinho managing just five points from his first eight away games this season. They have even kept clean sheets in their last three league away games and have only lost one of their last five, compared to five defeats in their previous seven.
PREDICTION: We're 10 minutes from kickoff at Vicarage Road, which means that it is time for a prediction! Chelsea, as we have just established, are improving on the road under Hiddink and are a tough team to beat under the Dutchman too, but Watford will have confidence returning following successive victories. It is a match that could go either way, but I can see these two sides sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw.
It was a draw the last time these two sides met too, with that coming in Hiddink's first match of his second spell at Chelsea. Costa's brace was cancelled out by a Deeney penalty and Cahill own goal on Boxing Day as Watford's four-game winning run came to an end. The last time they met at Vicarage Road was in the fifth round of the FA Cup back in 2009, when a hat-trick from Nicolas Anelka helped Chelsea to a 3-1 victory.
Indeed, Chelsea are unbeaten in their last nine league and cup meetings with Watford, winning seven of those and drawing the other two. The last time the Hornets beat Chelsea was in September 1999, when Allan Smart scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory here at Vicarage Road in the Premier League.
Watford would have rarely had as good a chance to end that run since the turn of the century, though. Chelsea took just 11 matches last season to surpass their current tally of 28 points, which is a sign of how far they have fallen since their all-conquering 2014-15 form.
Tonight's match will, incidentally, be Watford's 100th in the Premier League, becoming the 39th team to reach the century milestone. Seven of those matches have come in the month of February, but traditionally this has not been the best time of year for the Hornets, with only one victory from those seven outings.
KICKOFF: Here we go then! Chelsea get us underway at Vicarage Road as they look to maintain their unbeaten record under Guus Hiddink.
Low-key start to this match as both sides look to settle their way into proceedings into the opening exchanges. Chelsea have seen the majority of the ball so far, but without carrying much of a threat.
This is a big early concern for Watford as Ighalo was caught by Zouma and is now limping. It looks like a dead leg, which can see players withdrawn, but Ighalo looks like he will try to run it off now.
Two strikers at either end of the pitch go on decent runs as Costa barrages his way up the middle before being dispossessed, and Ighalo then makes ground only to see his shot deflected behind for a corner.
Willian picks the ball up just outside the penalty area and tries to swing a cross towards Costa, who makes a run across his marker towards the near post. However, Willian's delivery is disappointing and goes straight into the arms of Gomes.
Good pressure from Watford now as first they come down the right through Paredes, who sees his cross half-cleared. Chelsea are unable to completely clear the ball, however, and they need a few more goes at it to finally get rid of the danger.
Chelsea have the ball on the right and seem to be making progress, but Mike Dean stops play and blows for a free kick after spotting that Costa had pushed Prodl over in the area, well off the ball. He then has a word with the Chelsea striker, much to the delight of the home fans.
Still nothing to shout about for either side in the opening exchanges here. Chelsea seeing more of the ball, but both have settled fairly well in the opening 15 minutes.
Costa looks to provide the first bit of goalmouth action as he twists and turns away from Cathcart down the right channel, but the Watford defender sticks with him well and blocks the eventual low shot.
Watford win another corner, and once again Chelsea struggle to clear their lines. The ball bounces around in the area and Watford have a couple of half-chances to have a swing at goal before it pops up for Courtois to collect.
YELLOW CARD! The first card of the night arrives after just 19 minutes, with Prodl tripping Oscar on the left flank.
Watford win a free kick around 30 yards from goal, if not more, and Holebas fancies a shot at goal. The ball is nudged out to him, but his strike hits the wall and just about runs through to Courtois, although a couple of yellow shirts were interested in that.
A minor shout for a penalty from the Watford faithful as Jurado is sandwiched off the ball by Azpilicueta and Matic, but Mike Dean is right to pay little heed to the muted claims.
Watford again find themselves deep in Chelsea territory, with Ighalo lending the ball to Deeney before receiving it again on the loop-around. He twists and turns in the area, but Zouma keeps his eye on the ball and makes the block.
CHANCE! The clearest opening of the match so far falls to the hosts, and the man they would want it to fall to as well. Holebas hangs a cross into the middle which beats Terry, but Ighalo misjudges it and can't properly connect to nod it goalwards.
CHANCE! Watford maintain their pressure, winning another corner, which calls Courtois into action for the first time. The delivery is met by Prodl in the centre of the area, but his firm header is straight at the Chelsea keeper.
SAVES! Courtois is called into action once again as Watford keep on knocking on the door. The first is a routine stop after Deeney's flick-on had found Ighalo, who couldn't catch his shot right, scuffing it at the keeper. Watford come straight back at Chelsea, however, with Jurado dancing his way to the edge of the area before playing it out to Capoue, whose powerful first-time strike is beaten away by Courtois.
This is a really good spell for Watford. They have been on top for a good 10 minutes or so here and look far more likely to open the scoring than Chelsea do right now.
CLOSE! Chelsea finally create their first sight of goal, and it very nearly provides the opener. Costa gets in behind the defence after one long ball over the top. He twists his way into a shooting position before hitting one on the turn that deflects narrowly past the far post.
That was just a warning shot for the hosts that Chelsea always carry a threat going forward. The visitors haven't been at their best so far, but with Costa in this sort of form they are always capable of scoring.
Chelsea are starting to get into this game a little more now, forcing the play further up the field and back into the Watford half after their spell on the back foot.
Quique Flores will be delighted with what he has seen so far in this match, with the exception that his side were unable to score during their time on top. They have more than matched Chelsea so far, though.
Another hint of a penalty shout for the home side as Holebas cuts inside from the left flank and goes down under contact from Ivanovic. Once again, Mike Dean says no, and once again it looked like the correct decision to me.
Shooting chance for Azpilicueta as he comes down the left and cuts inside, but his eventual shot ends up comfortably wide of the far post.
All in all, Watford have edged this half. Chelsea may have seen more of the ball, but the hosts have created the better chances, with Chelsea only coming close through Costa's effort.
Flash point here as Paredes goes down off the ball following a tussle with Costa. It happens right in front of the bench, and the fans want a red card, but first of all Mike Dean will look to calm things down. There are handbags here!
Meanwhile, the fourth official indicates one minutes of added time, although we should now get more than that.
YELLOW CARDS! Mike Dean shows a yellow to Paredes and a yellow to Costa too. In truth, there was nothing in either challenge, but the handbags that followed drew the cards.
HALF TIME: Watford 0-0 Chelsea
The referee brings an end to the first half, which finished in pretty feisty fashion with that Costa scuffle. All in all, though, Watford will be the happier of the two sides after that first half having created the better chances and enjoyed more time in the ascendency than Chelsea have. It is still goalless and up for grabs heading into the second 45, though!
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Courtois has been called into action on a few occasions, with the trickiest save of the lot coming shortly before the half-hour mark when he pushed away a powerful strike from Capoue at the near post. That came amidst a very good spell for the home side, with Courtois also having to deny Ighalo and Prodl, the latter of whom perhaps should have done a little better with his header.
Arguably Watford's best chance of the first half didn't even result in a Courtois save, though. A cross arrived from the left for Ighalo, but he seemed to lose the flight of the ball as it arrived to him. John Terry missed it just in front of the striker, which may have put the Watford man off, but Ighalo certainly would have expected to do better.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have not offered much going forward, but did come close on one occasions against the run of play. Costa was the threat, getting in behind the defence before hitting a shot on the turn that bobbled narrowly past the far post. Whether or not Costa reemerges of the second half remains to be seen, however, as he seemed pretty wound up at the end of that first half.
KICKOFF: Watford get us back underway for the second half as they look to grab a victory that would lift them up to seventh in the Premier League table.
SAVE! Good start to the second half for Chelsea as the ball is played through to Oscar, who is forced to cut back on himself before seeing his shot blocked. The ball falls back to Mikel, whose deflected effort loops up and threatens to drop below the crossbar, but Gomes is there to tip it over the top.
SHOT! Decent opening for Watford at the other end as Chelsea once again fail to clear their lines. The ball eventually drops out of the sky for Deeney 20 yards from goal, but he drags his volley wide of the target.
There is certainly more energy about Chelsea at the start of this second half. They have begun it well, although Gomes is still yet to be seriously tested.
CHANCE! Almost the opener for Watford as Holebas plays a one-two on his way into the box, driving past Mikel. The angle is against him, however, and he slams his shot into the side-netting.
CHANCE! This time it is Chelsea's turn to threaten, with Fabregas and Matic combining to set up Costa. He reaches the byline and waits for support, which eventually arrives in the shape of Oscar. He tries to get across the first defender, but can't wrap his foot around the ball enough to turn it home from close range.
More good pressure from Watford here. They have Chelsea pinned back a bit at the moment and once again it is the hosts who look most likely to get the opening goal.
I can't imagine that it will be too much longer before we see a change from Hiddink here. If he wants to win this game, he may need to sacrifice one of Matic or Mikel in favour of Hazard.
SAVE! Having said that, Matic almost provides the opening goal here! The ball drops to him around 25 yards from goal and he looks to hit his volley first time, but it is straight at the keeper. Gomes needs two goes to collect it, but comfortably gets there before Costa can take advantage.
Costa picks the ball up on the left channel and immediately looks to drive to the byline, but Prodl, who has dealt with him well so far, gets across to make the challenge.
WATFORD SUB: The hosts make the first change of the evening as Almen Abdi replaces Jurado.
Watford win another corner here after Zouma stumbled into a cross when putting it behind, but the delivery is poor from Watson and cleared by the first man.
WATFORD SUB: Watford make their second change of the night, with Allan Nyom replacing Paredes.
SAVE! Good play from Oscar as he drops the shoulder and dips inside onto his right before drilling an effort towards the bottom corner. The ball may be going wide, but Gomes can't take any risks and gets down well to turn it behind.
CHELSEA SUB: This is the change we expected from Hiddink as Eden Hazard replaces Matic.
There are just 15 minutes left here, and we remain goalless at Vicarage Road. Watford have probably edged the game up to this point, but this could really go either way right now.
Almost a chance for Watford from another Watson corner, and it is Prodl who poses the threat again. He rises high in the area, but Ivanovic does just enough to prevent him from getting a clean header on goal.
CHANCE! Big chance for Chelsea, and a big save from Gomes to keep them at bay! It comes down the right flank, with Chelsea reaching the byline before cutting it back into the middle. Ivanovic is the man on the end of it, but his shot from close range is parried away by Gomes.
Chelsea are beginning to look more and more dangerous here. Hazard has made an impact since coming on, increasing the threat the visitors are posing, and now Watford may be happy to see this one out for a point.
CHANCE! Big chance for Chelsea, and again it comes down the right. Willian passes the ball across the edge of the penalty area and it goes all the way through to Hazard, but his first touch is too heavy and Gomes is able to smother the ball. A better touch there and he would have been in!
CHANCE! Another chance for the visitors, although this one would have taken some finishing. Hazard turns provider this time, hanging the ball up to the back post for Costa, He gets his boot to it, but it is an impossible angle and he can only hook the ball into the side-netting.
Costa almost gets in behind again here, but Cathcart does well to get back and make an important challenge. Chelsea's threat is really growing here.
WATFORD SUB: The hosts make their third and final change, and it is a debut for Mario Suarez as he replaces Capoue for the closing stages.
CHANCE! Magnificent save from Gomes! It looks for all the world as if Chelsea will take the lead as the ball arrives in the box and Costa attacks it at the back post. The final touch actually comes off Nyom, but Gomes still manages to claw it away with a brilliant stop.
There will be three minutes of added time at the end of this match.
FULL TIME: Watford 0-0 Chelsea
Mike Dean brings an end to proceedings at Vicarage Road, then, and it finishes goalless between Watford and Chelsea, which is perhaps the fairest scoreline. Watford were on top in the first half and created chances, but they were indebted to Heurelho Gomes
for keeping them in the match after the break, particularly with one late save to deny Costa. Neither side really did enough to win the match, though, so they can't have many complaints at finishing with a point apiece.
That is all we have time for this evening! Thank you very much for joining Sports Mole
for tonight's match as Watford and Chelsea share the spoils for the second time this season. I will leave you with our match report
, and be sure to stick around for reaction from both camps. From me, though, it is goodbye for now!