BY PAUL LAGAN at STAMFORD BRIDGE
Booed off at half-time for an insipid first 45 minutes, early second-half strikes by Ruben Loftus-Cheek and David Luiz, set Chelsea on their way to three vital points, at home to Watford, defeating the FA Cup finalists 3-0 with Gonzalo Higuain notching up the third.
Timing is everything, or so they say, and for Chelsea, they now have moved up to third in the Premier League, with one game left, unseated Spurs in the process – much to the delight of their fans – and set themselves up perfectly for the visit of Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League semi-final second-leg, on Thursday.
More often this season, it was Chelsea who capitulated straight after the whistle blew for the start of the second half, this time it was the boys from Hertfordshire and no one in Stamford Bridge saw it coming.
Make no mistake Chelsea got away with it, coming in the break at 0-0 – but for a wonder save from Kepa Arrizabalaga, they would have been justifiably a goal or two down.
Watford did not come to defend and on six minutes were unlucky when a Troy Deeney-inspired move saw Gerard Deulofeu let fly with a zippy, right-footer that went inches past Kepa’s left upright.
The Spain goalkeeper produced a magnificent ‘save-of-the-season’ effort on eight minutes after Deeney, unchallenged produced a powerful header that seemed destined for the top right hand corner of the net. But acobatic Kepa managed to hook the goal-bound sizzler away.
N-Golo Kante limped off the pitch with a possible hamstring injury be replaced by Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Jorginho had the Blues’ first effort on goal on 14 minutes when Eden Hazard set up the Brazilian-born Italian midfielder. He tried an audacious chip from the edge of the Watford penalty area, which took Forster a bit by surprise, and the goalkeeper had to take the ball on the second attempt.
Watford continued to produce scintillating attacking play with the home side struggling to contain the onslaught.
Chelsea did have a claim for a penalty dismissed by referee Paul Tierney when Kiko Fermenia appeared to hold back David Luiz on 30 minutes.
There were no changes at half-time other than in Chelsea’s attitude – Hazard forced a fine save from Forster and from the resultant corner the Belgian set up Loftus-Cheek to head powerfully home from close range on 48 minutes.
This was followed by David Luiz who found space and produced an equally emphatic header to double the lead two minutes later.
Despite the shock of conceding two goals, Watford started to recover their composure and Deulofeu went close on 56 minutes, but he scuffed a low, left-footer wide of goal.
Foster thwarted Pedro on 58 minutes and Loftus-Cheek’s follow-up just went wide of goal, as the Blues looked to add to their double in a see-sawing encounter in west London.
The third goal came on 75 minutes and ex-Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain, for much of the game, a peripheral figure slotted home an cute angled right-footer with 15 minutes left on the clock.
Watford rattled the crossbar, through Jose Holebas as then visitors deserved at least a goal for their positive performance.
They had the ball in the back of the net on 84 minutes but substitute Issac Success was offside.
Chelsea substitute Olivier Giroud could have made it number four late on.
The loudest applause went to Gary Cahill who, leaving at the end of the season, replaced David Luiz.
Teams: Chelsea, Arrizabalaga, Alonso, Jorginho, Kante, Higuain, Hazard, Pedro, Kovacic, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Luiz
Subs: Caballero, barkley, Loftus-Cheek, Giroud, Zappacosta, Willian, Cahill
Watford: Foster, Mariappa, Deulofeu, Deeney, Chalobah, Cathcart, Doucoure, Hughes, Femenia, Holebas, Pereyra
Subs: Gomes, Janmaat, Cleverley, Success, Marina, Gray, Kabasele