Premier League preview: Watford vs. Chelsea

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  • Reigning PL champions Chelsea currently 14th (28 points)
  • Newly promoted Watford 10th (32)
  • First meeting (on Boxing Day): Chelsea 2-2 Watford
  • Chelsea unbeaten in 7 PL games since firing Mourinho

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Watford will be in search of their first victory over Chelsea this century, having last defeated the reigning Premier League champions in PL play on Sept. 18, 1999 (nine meetings – all competitions) when they welcome to the Blues to Vicarage Road on Wednesday (Watch live at 2 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The story of the season, however, is not Watford’s stellar run through the first half of the PL campaign, but of course the trials and tribulations of Wednesday’s opponent. The post-Jose Mourinho era has seen a restored sense of direction at Chelsea, who are unbeaten in seven Premier League games since his dismissal in mid-December, though the Blues have climbed just two places in the league table in that time, thanks to four draws and just two wins under interim manager Guus Hiddink. One massive positive for Chelsea: in his five PL appearances since Mourinho’s departure, Diego Costa has scored five times, nearly doubling his output of three goals in 14 games under Mourinho.

[ MORE: Transfer grades — How did each PL club fare in January? ]

Watford, on the other hand, have seen their first season back in the PL take place in reverse of Chelsea’s. After eight wins in 17 games to start the season, the Hornets sat 7th in the PL table on Christmas Day. Since the busy festive period, it’s been just one win and one draw in six league games for Quique Sanchez Flores’ bunch. The lone victory came 11 days ago in a 2-1 victory over Newcastle United. Not coincidentally, Odion Ighalo‘s furious goalscoring ways have tapered off during the recent lull in Watford’s season; the Nigerian has scored just two league goals since the 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Boxing Day (12 goals in 17 games to that point).

On the injury front, everything looks great for Watford, who should have a full squad available for selection. As for Chelsea, it’s mostly good news as well: only Willian (foot), who will undergo a late fitness test, and Loic Remy (calf) are doubts for Tuesday’s clash.

What they’re saying

Watford striker Troy Deeney: “Of course we will take confidence from the fact that we got a draw at Stamford Bridge, but I think you have to remember that this is a different Chelsea team now and they’re obviously playing with more confidence. … We’ve had some good days against the so-called big teams, like against Liverpool for example, and we know we’ve got to be very disciplined and very street-smart to get anything from the game.”

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “My first experience in England was the FA Cup game against Watford in 2009. It was an easy game for Chelsea and we won with 60 percent effort, nowadays it’s impossible to think like that. It’s grown a lot and the gap between the top clubs and the bottom clubs hasn’t vanished but it’s reduced.”

Prediction

At some point, the ship will be set in the right direction for Chelsea. A month ago, everyone would have been piling on and taking the red-hot Hornets, but their recent form might just be an indicator they’ve been found out to an extent. For the first time in forever, there’s little or no pressure on Chelsea, which could make them an absolute terror during the upcoming run-in to the season. Watford 1-2 Chelsea.