Chelsea manager Frank Lampard says his team will have to get used to added pressure during a nervy Premier League run-in after they beat Watford on Saturday.
Manchester United had leapfrogged the Blues – who lost 3-2 at West Ham on Wednesday – into fourth place by thrashing Bournemouth earlier in the day.
However, Lampard’s side responded with a comfortable win over the struggling Hornets to reclaim the final automatic qualification spot for next season’s Champions League.
Olivier Giroud opened the scoring for the Blues, latching on to Ross Barkley’s clever pass and steering a left-foot shot into the bottom-right corner.
While Watford worked hard to contain the hosts, they offered little to suggest they were capable of a first win at Stamford Bridge since 1986.
And they fell further behind before the break, with Etienne Capoue’s rash challenge on Christian Pulisic resulting in a Chelsea penalty that Willian converted.
Thereafter it was relatively plain sailing for Lampard’s side, who rounded off the scoring when Barkley found the top left corner from Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross.
The Blues have now won three of their four games since the top flight resumed in June.
“Pre-West Ham, we could have gone third and we let ourselves down,” Lampard told Sky Sports.
“Today, there was a bit of pressure to get back to fourth and we produced – so get used to that pressure, whatever way it looks, because it’s going to be tough all the way through.”
Nigel Pearson’s Watford remain a point above the relegation zone but have played a game more than 18th-placed Aston Villa, who travel to champions Liverpool on Sunday (16:30 BST).
Chelsea regain mojo and top-four place
Manchester United’s thumping victory against Bournemouth had seen Chelsea drop out of the top four places for the first time since 26 October.
But this was the perfect response from Lampard’s side who were brimming with energy throughout and appeared galvanised by Wednesday’s lacklustre defeat at West Ham.
The Blues made four changes to their starting XI and looked considerably more assured defensively while Willian – who scored a penalty in his third consecutive game – Barkley and Pulisic provided the thrust going forward.
England midfielder Barkley was particularly impressive, demanding the ball in tight areas and then restricting his number of touches to get out of trouble and maintain Chelsea’s attacking momentum.
Chelsea’s opener was the perfect example as he controlled and swivelled away from a defender in one movement and then sliced open the Watford defence with his third touch.
Barkley, who played more attacking passes (47) than any of Chelsea’s other front six players, also capped a fine individual performance with his first Premier League goal of the campaign late on.
After meekly losing to Southampton last Sunday, manager Pearson had called for his side to produce a performance that “better represented” them.
And his players initially responded with a committed and gritty show, albeit one that lacked the quality to suggest they were ever going to trouble their hosts.
There was no lack of application – Pearson’s side collectively ran almost 5km more than their higher-placed opponents – it was simply a gulf in class.
But they were also guilty of moments of carelessness in possession, such as when Capoue presented Chelsea with an easy opportunity to double their advantage.
“To concede in the first half was painful because we showed the qualities that were missing last week,” Pearson told Sky Sports.
“We are having to play our way back into nick. Time is not on our side but we have to be brave enough and want the ball. The second half performance was one we can build on.”
Danny Welbeck’s introduction after the interval did provide them with some pace and quality in the final third but it was too little too late.
Welbeck wriggled into several promising positions and forced Kepa Arrizabalaga into a superb save late on, but it was one of very few moments that would have excited any Watford supporters watching at home.
And it was a performance indicative of a side, if you discount Jan Bednarek’s own goal, that has failed to score in three consecutive defeats and is now anxiously looking over its shoulder at their relegation rivals.
Prolific Chelsea – the stats
- Chelsea have won four successive Premier League games at Stamford Bridge for the first time since winning seven in a row at home under Antonio Conte between October and December 2017.
- Watford have lost four consecutive Premier League away games in a row for the first time since the final six on the road in the 2017-18 season under Javi Gracia.
- Watford haven’t won away at Chelsea in any competition since May 1986 (5-1), drawing four and losing nine at Stamford Bridge since then.
- Chelsea have scored two or more goals in nine of their past 10 Premier League games, only failing to do so in a 2-0 loss to Man Utd at Stamford Bridge in February.
- Only seven defenders have recorded more Premier League assists than Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta (31), with the Spaniard equalling his record for assists in a single campaign in the competition (6 – also 2017-18).
- After failing to score with his last 63 shots in the Premier League, Ross Barkley has scored his first goal since netting against Burnley in October 2018.
- Chelsea midfielder Barkley has been directly involved in eight goals in his last 10 starts in all competitions (three goals, five assists).
- Olivier Giroud has scored four goals in his last seven Premier League games for Chelsea, more than he had netted in his previous 38 appearances (3).
- Willian is the first ever Chelsea player to score a penalty in three consecutive Premier League games and the sixth different player to do it in the competition.
Chelsea travel to Crystal Palace in their next Premier League outing on Tuesday, 7 July (18:00 BST). Watford host bottom club Norwich on the same date at the same time.