LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea, largely second best against Watford, showed great resolve to come back and earn a 4-2 win but the victory provided manager Antonio Conte with more questions than answers as he battles to keep their Premier League title defence alive.
The game represented a chance for Chelsea to silence the naysayers who believe their increased workload this season will hamper their league form, but even though they earned a first win in four in all competitions, the fact they were outplayed for long periods at Stamford Bridge will worry Conte.
AS Roma penned Chelsea in their own half for much of the thrilling 3-3 Champions League draw in midweek, and the same happened against Watford as Chelsea spent almost 30 per cent of the match in their defensive third.
A look at the average positions shows to what extent Watford adhered to that approach and took the game to Chelsea. Only three players in blue finished the match with an average position higher than the halfway line, compared to Watford’s six.
One particular absentee was telling. Without the protection offered by the injured N’Golo Kante, Chelsea’s backline looked exposed and if Richarlison had converted when unmarked in the box with Watford leading 2-1, the result could have looked very different.
Tiemoue Bakayoko gave the ball away 18 times, with only his midfield partner Cesc Fabregas more wasteful. Kante averages just over eight unsuccessful passes per game and his ability to take pressure off his defenders cannot be underestimated.
“My players showed me that we have the attitude to fight and get a different result.” Conte told reporters.
“It is not simple because we are facing difficult situations but the spirit and commitment is right.”
Chelsea last lost three consecutive Premier League matches in 2015 when Jose Mourinho’s struggles continued in his second spell and he left the club two months later.
Avoiding a repeat of that will ease the pressure on Conte, but when the Italian analyses Saturday’s win in more depth, he will know that Chelsea have to take the game to their opponents more or risk sinking without trace in this title race.
Reporting by Pete Hall, editing by Ed Osmond