Antonio Conte is set to remain as Chelsea manager for their Monday Night Football clash with Watford at Vicarage Road. The Italian is under particularly intense pressure after a dire start to 2018 for the Blues, which saw them win just two matches in January.
Since Chelsea were thumped 3-0 by Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge in midweek, the prospect of Conte losing his job has reared its head once again. The expectation was always that he would be heading out of the club at the end of the campaign. Now it could be within weeks.
Watford played on the same evening as Chelsea, and were involved in a significantly less eventful 90 minutes away at Stoke City. Javi Garcia will have been pleased to see his side avoid defeat in the Potteries, and may well stick with the same eleven that could easily have snatched three points in midweek. The most likely change is Ricardo Pereyra in for Tom Cleverley. The former Manchester United man went off injured in midweek.
With Alvaro Morata still a doubt, Conte will likely start Olivier Giroud, who signed from Arsenal on deadline day. Giroud is 6/5 to score anytime.
Cesc Fabregas is expected to start, as Chelsea try to ignite their creative flair again. The Blues are the lowest scorers of the top six in the league this season. The dependence on Eden Hazard is growing by the week. If Watford can keep close to the Belgian – which is easier said than done – they could be on for a very successful start to February.
The 9/1 player special on Hazard to score and assist in the match is tempting, however. He has been unplayable at times this season, and Watford showed defensive fragility in midweek.
The biggest news coming up to this match was the injury to Andreas Christensen. With David Luiz also ruled out, Chelsea will play Gary Cahill in the middle of the back three again. Cahill was awful in that role on Wednesday night, and could really suffer against Andre Gray, Richarlison and Gerard Deulofeu.
The Hornets’ attack is capable of rapid transition through Abdoulaye Doucoure and Pereyra. When Chelsea advance their wing-backs, they are vulnerable to such counters, particularly with the sluggish Cahill forced to play higher up the pitch than he is comfortable.
Callum Wilson was open about Bournemouth’s targeting of Cahill with their press, and I would expect Watford to follow that lead. Of course, it may not have the same impact, but it’s something for Chelsea to adapt to. Cahill to get booked at 9/2 looks a great price.
Chelsea fans will be wincing at their fixture list. They needed to have a strong January to make them comfortable later in the year. Instead, they’ve had a terrible opening to 2018 and are now under real threat of losing their top four berth to Tottenham.
Watford brought Garcia in to stop their slide. He looks to have tightened the team up defensively already, but a positive result here would really kickstart his reign.
The hosts are just four points off the relegation places, while Chelsea could be fifth by the time this one kicks off. Both teams are battling against poor form, but I think Chelsea – and more specifically Hazard – will have the quality to squeak a narrow, if unconvincing, victory.
TIP: Chelsea to win 2-1 @ 7/1
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*