Three things we learned from Watford vs. Chelsea
WATFORD -- Watford and Chelsea battled to a 0-0 draw on Wednesday at Vicarage Road, with few clear cut chances for either side.
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On a chilly evening in Hertfordshire Diego Costa and Willian briefly threatened for the visitors, while Odion Ighalo and Etienne Capoue looked sharp but couldn’t make the most of good openings in the first half.
Here are three things we learned.
COSTA, FOR ONCE, THE VICTIM
In an otherwise lackluster encounter a serious flashpoint arrived just before half time in front of the dugouts and, you guessed it, Chelsea’s resident bad boy Diego Costa was involved. Except this time, unlike the vast majority of the time, he was innocent.
First Costa was clattered into by Watford’s Ecuadorian right back Juan Carlos Paredes but his appeals were waved away as he remonstrated with the officials and Chelsea’s bench cleared to fight his cause. Then the ball broke loose and went towards Costa and Paredes. The former, of course, put his arm and pushed Paredes in the back but Watford’s full back then rather embarrassingly threw himself to the floor and held his face. Make no mistake, Costa was up to his old tricks for most of this game but in this particular instance he wasn’t at fault.
Costa was the victim and even Watford’s manager Quique Sanchez Flores -- he and Costa know each other from their days together at Atletico Madrid -- seemed apologetic for the actions of his player. Costa, donning his full villain costume, was berated by the home fans but when they see the incident again they’ll admit that Chelsea’s bullish forward, for once, was not the antagonist in this incident. Both players were booked for their part in the sideshow but Costa showed plenty of patience and discipline, which aren’t traits one would usually attribute to him, even if he still couldn’t keep his mouth shut after the fact. Baby steps, but maybe he’s learning? The man who has six goals in his last nine games looked sharp as he latched onto a long ball in the first half but his shot was deflected wide and then late on was denied by as superb stop from Huerelho Gomes in the 89th minute. If that would’ve gone in his role as the perfect villain would have been complete.
Throughout this season Watford and Flores have quietly gone about their business without much fuss. The fact that most home fans inside Vicarage Road -- Watford had lost four of their last five PL games heading into this one, don’t forget -- were disappointed with a 0-0 draw against a resurgent Chelsea outfit shows how far they’ve come in a short space of time. This season will be, barring a monumental collapse, the first Watford have ever managed to avoid relegation from the Premier League. That in itself is a huge achievement but they want more. The fans and Sanchez want a top 10 finish.
The club seems to be being gentrified before our very eyes as it sits just a 20-minute train ride away from the heart of London. You can liken them to a street in a big city which was previously decrepit. Now, thanks to wine bars, fancy foreigners flocking to the club and perfectly manicured beards prominent along the avenues, change is in the air. Sanchez has the fine beard. The stadium always seems to have a new addition every time I visit and thanks to the Pozzo family, who spent wisely in January, they now has a vast array of talented foreign stars. We may not be getting to the heady days of the 1980s when Sir Elton John was the owner and the Hornets challenged for the league title and played in Europe, but we aren’t far off.
On this showing the players they already possess -- Troy Deeney, Jose Manuel Jurado, Ighalo and Co. -- are ready to kick on and become the PL’s leading “boutique club” who appeal to those looking for something a little different. Make no mistake, Watford can hang with the big boys but their maturity throughout the ups and downs of a PL season was shown on Wednesday. They handled the threat of Chelsea’s attackers with minimum fuss and just like an area undergoing gentrification, there’s still plenty more to come. This is only the start.
John Terry announced over the weekend that he will not be signing a new deal at Chelsea this summer, as the 35-year-old center back revealed the club had informed his agent no new one-year deal would be on the table for the legendary club captain.
Terry’s stance of making the lack of negotiations public put the ball in his court and even though interim boss Hiddink has hinted that negotiations could renew between the club and Terry, the fact Chelsea’s legendary defender has gone public about this means there’s almost no point of return. Never say never, but his Blues career appears to be over. Before and during the game on Wednesday his name was cheered louder than any other Chelsea player by the band of traveling fans and chants about him were matched by boos from Watford’s fans whenever he touched the ball.
At the end of the game Terry wandered over to Chelsea’s fans patting his heart with his fist and pointing at them as they sung his name. It was a poignant moment for a man who has given his entire career to Chelsea. Despite initially struggling to deal with the pace and power of Ighalo during the game, in the 38th minute we got a glimpse of what Chelsea will miss when Terry is gone. Ighalo hesitated for a second and Terry swept in to take the ball and start a Chelsea attack. His reading of the game is still the best of any central defender in the PL. Period. Forget his off-field indiscretions for now. We are talking about Terry the player.
The fact that Terry -- who has been at Chelsea since the age of 14 -- could be allowed to walk away this summer boggles the mind of most. In a period of vast transition for the club, with a new manager coming in, a new stadium on the horizon and their worst Premier League finish in the last 15 years starring them in the face, wouldn’t you want Mr. Chelsea around to help wade through the mess? Then again, perhaps a clean break is best for everyone but the adulation Chelsea’s fans showered Terry with certainly suggested otherwise. Are they stuck in the past? Perhaps.
It’s hard to acknowledge that one of the greatest players to ever pull on the blue jersey is leaving. But sometimes it’s okay to live in the past. Chelsea’s fans sung about Frank Lampard for most of the first half showing that even a player who left for New York City FC via Manchester City over 18 months ago is still lauded after his departure. The same, and then some, will be done for Terry when he finally departs Stamford Bridge for the final time as a player. On Wednesday Mr. Chelsea lead by example, as he has done for 18 seasons on the spin, and it will be strange to see a Chelsea defense without him when the 2016-17 season begins. Unless, of course, there’s one more twist in this tale. When JT’s around you never know...