Chelsea head into their final Premier League fixture against Watford on Sunday afternoon having realistically already secured third position in the standings. Meanwhile, Watford will guarantee 19th position with all three points at Stamford Bridge, although it will still take a Norwich City win against Tottenham Hotspur to dislodge them from second-bottom. Having failed to record more than two points per game in this season’s Premier League, there can be no denying that Chelsea have endured a disappointing top-flight campaign by their own high standards.
Chelsea will finish third whatever happens in today’s games; they can’t catch Liverpool or Man City, but have such a superior goal difference to Tottenham that they can’t be caught even if they lose and Spurs win. A Champions League spot is the least that manager Thomas Tuchel would have wanted from the season, though. Last year’s European win seems a long way away after a few months that’s seen them lose two domestic cups to Liverpool on penalties and be placed up for sale by owner Roman Abramovich.
Nevertheless, as Thomas Tuchel alluded to earlier this week, the Blues have been competing against two of the best teams that this country has ever seen, and they would have been required to reach 90 points for just the fourth time in their history to rival Manchester City or Liverpool. Realistically, third spot was as good as it was ever going to be this season, although that will not be used as an excuse for just 12 points coming from their last nine Premier League fixtures. Chelsea again missed numerous chances on Thursday evening as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Leicester City, Marcos Alonso cancelling out James Maddison’s early strike.
Still, Watford would have gladly settled for third in the Premier League! Instead, the Hornets will be crashing down to the Championship following a season that’s seen them lose seven out of their last eight games and equal the record for most home defeats in a season (15). On the other hand, they’ll want to send manager Roy Hodgson off to retirement with a win.
The West Londoners have now won just one of their last five league fixtures at Stamford Bridge, that solitary triumph being posted courtesy of a last-gasp winner against West Ham United. Only a Chelsea defeat, a Spurs win over Norwich and an 18-goal swing will prevent the home side from claiming third spot, although Watford will be hoping that Spurs can get the better of the Canaries at Carrow Road. With a £2.2m difference between 19th and 20th, the Hornets will want to finish in the former position, and an eight-game winless streak suggests that they may have to be reliant on results elsewhere. Roy Hodgson, who will be replaced by Rob Edwards after this game, spoke highly of his players after the recent goalless draw against Everton, but they were thrashed 5-1 at home to Leicester in their most recent outing.
Two of their last three away defeats have been at Liverpool and Manchester City, Hodgson perhaps partially relieved that only seven goals were shipped in those fixtures. With this game representing the 74-year-old’s 1231st and likely final game as a manager, he will be hoping that his players can give him the footballing send-off that he deserves. The likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger and Alonso will all likely start this game ahead of potential summer departures, although it is unclear whether Andreas Christensen will receive the same level of send-off. Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, another player who may leave Stamford Bridge, could start between the sticks, while the likes of Malang Sarr and Saul Niguez could be given some minutes.
Youngsters such as Harvey Vale may feature among the replacements, but Tuchel is unlikely to take any risks with Timo Werner’s hamstring injury. Despite the manner of the defeat to Leicester, Hodgson does not have too many alternatives to make widespread changes to his Watford XI due to their injury list. Goalkeeper Ben Foster will make his final appearance for the club, while Hassane Kamara and William Troost-Ekong could return to the backline. Highly-rated youngster Kwadwo Baah may finally make his debut for Watford with an outing off the substitutes’ bench.
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Sarr; James, Saul, Loftus-Cheek, Alonso; Ziyech, Mount; Havertz
Watford possible starting lineup:
Foster; Ngakia, Kabasele, Troost-Ekong, Kamara; Sissoko, Kayembe, Gosling; Kalu, Pedro, Sema