Chelsea boosted their Champions League qualification hopes with a comfortable win over Premier League strugglers Watford.
The result lifts the Blues back up to fourth in the table, after they were temporarily leapfrogged by Manchester United.
Nigel Pearson’s side remain a point above the relegation zone but have played a game more than Aston Villa, who travel to Liverpool on Sunday (16:30 BST).
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 duly converted.
Thereafter it was relatively plain sailing for Frank 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.
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 Frank 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 next 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.
Watford’s worrying lack of goals
After meekly losing to Southampton last Sunday, manager Nigel 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.
Danny Welbeck’s introduction in the second half 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.
Man of the match – Ross Barkley (Chelsea)
‘It was a comfortable evening for us’ – what they said
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard on Sky Sports: “We played some nice stuff. It’s difficult against the low [defensive] block sometimes and the way we broke it down was good.
“We could have been better in the second half with our passes but we defended the set-pieces really well. It was a comfortable evening for us. When you have two players in those advanced midfield positions against Watford, you have to get players behind their midfield.
“Mason Mount’s pass is wrapped through the front line [in the build-up to first goal]. I like working with that position because it’s where I played and it’s important we have quality in that area to unlock the door.”
Watford manager Nigel Pearson told Sky Sports: “I thought we played with discipline. I just said to the players, sometimes it’s hard when you have got players who would normally contribute in a different way, that are having to work hard for the team to make it difficult for opponents.
“To concede in the first half was painful because we showed the qualities that were missing last week. It is important for us to now to recognise what the best chance we have of winning games is, and it’s the work ethic we showed tonight.
“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. It wasn’t our night and we conceded at times when it takes courage to come back into the game. The second half performance was one we can build on.”
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.