Pre-Season Friendly, 05/08/03
Team: Chamberlain, Doyley, Robinson, Cox, Dyche, Ardley, Johnson, Fisken, Dyer, Webber, Helguson
Subs: Hand (for Fisken, 59), Gayle (for Dyche, 59), Vernazza (for Johnson, 59), Mahon (for Ardley, 69), Fitzgerald (for Dyer, 69), Cook (for Helguson, 69), McNamee (for Webber, 77), Hitchcock (for Chamberlain, 87)
By Dave Messenger
You know a big team is in town when the unofficial merchandise stands are outside the ground, selling the latest moody tat to the most gullible members of the visiting support. When touts ask if you have any spare tickets (yeah, like a tout is going to make a killing on the mark-up of pre-season tickets. "How much, mate? Twenty notes? I'll just go to the pub, then.") and when the Chelsea TV cameras are out in force. The young presenter looked visibly bored as she attempted to engage a particularly half-witted individual in conversation about Damien Duff as I walked past.
Most tellingly of all, you know it's a Premiership side that's come to play when the gates to the directors' car park are closed behind the visitors' team bus, blocking a horde of thirsty 'Orns from getting to the Mecca that is Harry's Bar. The official reason for such an over-the-top gesture to the well paid and pampered Blues squad was that "the Chelsea players don't want to be jostled as they get off the bus". Jostle Premiership primadonnas? Not me, I just wanted a pint of Carlsberg's finest. Grrrr.
If Chelsea were being precious before the game, that all ended when they took to the pitch. Truth be told, the signs were there before we even kicked off. Watford's much vaunted new look of 4-3-3 is worth persevering with in the First Division, but when you're faced with a midfield four of Gronkjaer, Geremi, Lampard and Duff, full internationals to a man, giving them the luxury of an extra body in the centre of the park was always likely to end in carnage, pre-season or no pre-season.
Still, Watford started gamely and actually looked brighter than the West Londoners in the first few minutes as Webber, enthusiastically greeted by the packed home stands, took the bull by the horns and had a couple of trademark darting runs at Desailly and Terry. Despite the fact that both Blues defenders eventually took the ball from him, the fact that Webber looks sharp and fit can only be good news when looking ahead to the proper action.
Watford's early brightness didn't last as Chelsea noticeably upped the gears and exploited their man advantage in midfield. The first goal came on eleven minutes as Wayne Bridge's excellent cross did for a badly positioned Sean Dyche, allowing Mikael Forsell the time and space to control and bury a neat finish. With a goal cushion, Chelsea then really hit the accelerator and Watford were unable to live with the movement of the Blues forwards. Geremi, who pulled the strings all night and looks a true class act, smacked a post before Gronkjaer sped away from Robinson, leading him to lunge in with a challenge best described as careless. Hasselbaink, one of the few Chelsea players who didn't really shine, stepped up to stroke the resulting penalty home.
The onslaught continued as Watford's bewildered defenders battled manfully to get to grips with their opponents. Number three came when Geremi's effort was finger-tipped onto the post by Chamberlain and in his desperation to clear the ball from two onrushing blue shirts, Neil Cox thumped the ball into his own net. Best to get those sort of things out of the way in pre-season, I find. Still no respite as Chamberlain was forced into two smart saves to deny Forsell and Hasselbaink and you couldn't help feel that the final score would be determined by how long Chelsea could be arsed to keep up the tempo.
However, on thirty minutes, the salvation we hoped for came from the reliable head of Heidar Helguson, as he arrived in the box to head home a typically excellent Neal Ardley delivery in vintage Helguson style. A decent goal and a timely reminder that Heidar is still going to be as dangerous as ever in the opposition box. The remainder of the half saw some decent spells of possession, though all Watford attacks foundered on the rock of the Terry-Desailly axis.
Half-time saw Watford make the necessary tactical adjustments. If we're going to succeed with the new formation, it could be viewed as a good thing that Chelsea showed exactly what the pitfalls are in playing a 4-3-3. While we're unlikely to come up against a side as good, at least we now know where the formation's weaknesses lie. The half started brighter, with Watford looking more purposeful. Helguson and Johnson might both have done better with long range chances. However, Chelsea soon got into their stride and when Chamberlain couldn't hold a Gudjohnsen shot, Damien Duff was on hand to tap in a deserved goal.
The game then became a substitution fest and few goalscoring chances were carved out. Robinson produced a far better piece of defending to deny Gudjohnsen, Chamberlain saved well from Oliviera and then denied Gudjohnsen at his feet and as far as Watford went, all that was left was a cameo role from Lee Cook. As he took on Melchiot, he did a dragback, then another, then stood on the ball, hit the deck, ate some turf and listened to the cackles of the whole ground. It was left to Watford goalkeeping coach and former Chelsea hero Kevin Hitchcock to earn the night's last cheers, as he took to the field for the last couple of minutes as a late sub for Chamberlain.
So, what did we learn? Ten pounds on Chelsea to win the Premiership seems a wise investment. Sometimes (not very often admittedly) this beautiful game of ours gives you occasion to simply throw up your hands and say "too good". Last night, Chelsea were purposeful, skilful, inventive and too sharp for Watford. They handed out a footballing lesson. Nothing more, nothing less. No need for gnashing of teeth and post-mortems are neither required nor requested....
Chelsea were just too good. Bring on Coventry....