Chelsea drew 2-2 with in-form Watford on Boxing Day but it felt like two points dropped rather than one point gained for most of their fans, players and interim coaching staff.
In Guus Hiddink’s first game in charge since he was installed as Chelsea’s interim boss for a second spell, his side started brightly and went ahead through Diego Costa‘s volley.
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However, goals from Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo put Watford ahead before Costa equalized, then Oscar slipped horrendously and sent a penalty kick over the bar 10 minutes from time.
That missed opportunity summed up a nervy looking Chelsea — especially before and after half time defensively and for plenty of the game in the final third — as the scars from their nine defeats in the opening 16 games of this season under former boss Jose Mourinho are still prevalent.
Hiddink, 69, admitted that after the game it was a “fair result” but he had a feeling his team could’ve grabbed back-to-back wins for the first time in the PL this season.
“At the end it is a fair result. You have to have respect Watford because they have been on a winning streak and have very decent strikers. But in the end I think we could have made a little bit more, we had some chances and it was a pity Oscar slipped for the penalty.”
Costa’s first goal saw the ball bounce around in the box and it fell kindly to the Spanish international to hammer home. That little bit of luck which had evaded Chelsea for most of this campaign seemed to finally be back on their side.
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Think again. Nemanja Matic ridiculously handled the ball in the box just before half time to hand Watford a lifeline, then Ighalo’s goal to put the Hornets 2-1 up was deflected cruelly past a stranded Thibaut Courtois with the Belgian goalkeeper bemoaning his team’s bad luck in his post-match interview. Oscar’s untimely slip when taking the spot kick was equally as cruel, as Chelsea felt three big points slip through their grasp.
Despite Eden Hazard‘s late cameo as he returned from injury — he won the penalty kick and generally looked rejuvenated — there were plenty of wobbles from the Blues as Watford’s lively front two and their industrious midfield caused them problems.
Hiddink has plenty of work to do between now and the end of the season to not only drag Chelsea away from the relegation zone — with the point they are still only two points off the bottom three — but move them up the table and advance in both the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League.
Next up for Chelsea is a trip to struggling Manchester United on Monday, Dec. 28 (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) but Chelsea’s bad luck has continued as Costa will be out suspended for that clash between two struggling giants of the PL, after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season against Watford for a late lunging tackle.
“Every Chelsea vs. Manchester United game is big but this one is especially of course,” Hiddink said. “I hope we can show the same ambition there that we showed in a big part of this game today.”
Chelsea may have showed a little more ambition than they had in previous games but plenty of the same issues which have plagued them for most of this season remained.