Chelsea defeated Watford 3-0 in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon to almost confirm their place in the top-four this season.
The opening stages saw the visitors dominate, with endless chances and high-pressure making Chelsea legs a little uneasy.
Although Chelsea were unconvincing, they came out stronger in the second half before substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek got his name on the scoresheet to ease the hosts’ nerves.
Within minutes, it was 2-0 with David Luiz netting his third goal of the season to help put his side within touching distance of Champions League football. A goal from Gonzalo Higuain was the icing on the cake for Maurizio Sarri’s side.
The score remained 3-0 as Chelsea kept their first clean sheet in the Premier League since the beginning of April. The result means that the west London outfit are sitting on 71 points in third with one game left to play while Watford sit comfortably in 10th, three points off eighth-placed Everton.
Here are five things we learned from Chelsea’s 3-0 victory over Javi Gracia’s Watford.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.
1. Top four over Europa League
The only achievable aim for Chelsea this season was to ensure that they qualified for a place in the Champions League next season.
Their Europa League campaign is yet to end, with their 1-1 draw away to Eintracht Frankfurt last week putting them in a good position to seal a home victory in the semi-final second leg, that would reward them with a final appearance at the Baku Olympic Stadium later this month.
Ahead of this match, Sarri’s starting eleven made it clear that the west Londoner’s weren’t taking any chances. A strong line-up that involved key-man Hazard up-top and resisted fielding a weaker XI signified Chelsea’s domestic intent.
Knowing that they had Champions League qualification in their hands, the Blues clearly felt it better to all-but seal their place in next season’s biggest European competition earlier rather than later.
By winning today, Sarri has lifted further pressure on next week’s semi-final, knowing that they are even closer to confirming Champions League football returning to Stamford Bridge next season.
2. Kante can’t play his part
The Frenchman has established himself as one of the most effective middlemen in world football, having bagged himself two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and a fantastic World Cup win with France within the past three years.
Despite Sarri’s persistence of utilising teammate Jorginho in Chelsea’s defensive midfield position over Kante, the 28-year-old is a vital cog to the Chelsea machine.
However, after just 10 minutes of this fixture, Kante was on the floor and forced off the pitch with a suspected calf injury that will likely rule him out for the rest of the season.
That means Chelsea will have to face Eintracht Frankfurt without the former Leicester City man and if they progress, their final showing will also be without the Frenchman.
With Chelsea likely to stick with the same system, it may allow Ruben Loftus-Cheek – who came on for Kante this afternoon and bagged himself a goal – the opportunity to finally get some game time and showcase what every Chelsea fan believes he can do.
3. Half an eye on the FA Cup
What a season Watford have had. Never mentioned in relegation conversations, often sitting pretty in the top half and, of course, they have sealed a place in this season’s FA Cup final.
With just one further fixture standing between Watford and their first FA Cup final since 1984’s 2-0 defeat against Everton, perhaps it’s only natural that today’s performance didn’t end in the victory they would have relished at the start of play.
In truth, The Hornets dominated the opening proceedings and looked more likely to secure three points ahead of their counterparts, with FA Cup semi-final hero Gerard Deulofeu causing problems for the Chelsea defence.
However, Chelsea slowly dragged themselves back into contention and within three quick second-half minutes, Watford gave themselves little chance of picking up any points.
If would be unfair to say that Watford were distracted by their FA Cup final against Manchester City in a few weeks but their energy levels faltered and their effort turned to consolidation as full-time approached.
4. Record-breaking Premier League goodbye from Hazard?
Almost every sporting media outlet – including our good selves – have reported on the ongoing situation at Chelsea regarding their starman’s immediate future at the club.
The former Lille man has been heavily linked with a summer move to La Liga giants Real Madrid, who seem to be keen to add the Europa League winner to their ranks.
Chelsea’s performance today didn’t start in blistering fashion but Hazard was a constant threat to the Watford defence, who regularly tried to get multiple players marking the Belgian.
✓ Eric Cantona (1992-93)
✓ Matt Le Tissier (1994-95)
✓ Thierry Henry (2002-03)
✓ Eden Hazard (2018-19)
The only four players to score 15+ goals and provide 15+ assists in a single Premier League season. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/92yuGtPm2o
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 5, 2019
However, they couldn’t get close enough to him early in the second half as his cross found the head of Loftus-Cheek, who headed the ball beyond Ben Foster. It didn’t take long for Hazard to effect the match again after his corner found another teammate’s head – David Luiz this time – from a corner which also hit the back of the net.
Today’s performance saw Hazard become one of only four Premier League stars in its history – the first since 2003 – to score 15+ and assist 15+ goals in a single season. A truly incredible achievement from the 28-year-old.
Two assists for Hazard this afternoon is a fine way to cap off his Premier League season at Stamford Bridge. But with just one league outing to go – away to Leicester City next Sunday – could this have been his last appearance at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League?
5. Man Utd’s Champions League dream over
Today’s victory for Chelsea finally proved that one of the top four chasers actually wants to finish in those desired places come to the end of this campaign.
The form of Sarri’s side, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester United over recent weeks has been appalling with each side dropping valuable points in their pursuit of Champions League football.
Kicking off at the same time as Chelsea’s clash with Watford, Manchester United drew 1-1 with already-relegated Huddersfield Town to confirm that the Red Devils will not be in the Champions League next year.
Chelsea’s win puts them five points ahead of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, who are also four points behind Tottenham Hotspur who sit in fourth.
Solskjaer revealed he was still planning for life in the Champions League just last week but the former club striker will now need to rethink his plans with that now an impossibility.