David John expects Premier League champions Chelsea to make early gains when they host Watford on Monday night.
Chelsea v Watford (2000BST, Sky Sports 1)
It is all hail the conquering heroes at Stamford Bridge on Monday night as Antonio Conte’s champs do a lap of honour in front of the faithful.
Chelsea had potentially three bites of the cherry with Tottenham crossing everything in the hope of a slip-up but it was probably no shock to see them get the job done at the first time of asking with a gritty display at West Brom.
The Baggies played their part in stifling Chelsea for much of the night but another astute tactical switch by Conte as substitute Michy Batshuayi – almost anonymous this season – pounced in the six-yard box for the late winner.
It does help having a £25m-rated international striker on the bench to call on for a change of pace but Conte’s first season has been a triumph after taking control last autumn and they have to be applauded.
The champagne was flowing in the dressing room on Friday night and the case has to be made now as to whether they are worthy 1/4 chances to celebrate their coronation with another victory.
The argument for them is pretty strong – the opponents are modest, there are FA Cup final starting places up for grabs and the cherry on the cake would be receiving the trophy on the back of another success.
It is possible to argue that an underwhelming performance could be in the offing though – when they last took top honours their following game was a tired 3-0 defeat at West Brom following mission accomplished.
Watford have nothing to lose in the slightest and surely Walter Mazzarri’s chances of clinging on to his job for the start of next season could depend hugely on how much willing his players show over the coming few days.
The Italian will have to stir his increasingly leggy troops into action after another away defeat to Everton on Friday night. An absolutely abysmal run on their travels now stands at one top-flight win in 14 with six successive recent reverses all coming without troubling the scorekeeper.
So will Chelsea be so far off the pace as to be able to suggest the visitors have any sort of chance? Probably not.
Mazzarri has not been helped by a spate of injuries in defence that has seen his side slip from inside the top 10 down to just above the relegation places and some of his players have argued to the contrary it has been ‘feet up’ since reaching the 40-point mark.
The Italian barked himself hoarse at Goodison Park but it is clearly just not happening and Christian Kabasele going off injured leaves him desperately short of cover at the back and I don’t fancy the chances of Austrian lump Sebastien Prodl with a permutation of Eden Hazard, Victor Moses, Pedro and likely starter Batshuayi buzzing around him.
This is a tough one to assess all told, but I am going to land on the hosts leading after 30 minutes in the anticipation of them getting on top smartly before all the party tricks come out and can rightly enjoy a special evening to the maximum.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Watford
Chelsea are unbeaten in six Premier League meetings against Watford since losing the first clash in September 1999 (W4 D2).
The Hornets are winless in their last six league visits to Stamford Bridge since winning 5-1 in May 1986 (D4 L2).
Watford’s 1-0 win in 1999 is the Hornets’ only win over the Blues in their last 16 meetings in all competitions (D5 L10).
Diego Costa scored twice against Watford at Stamford Bridge last season in a 2-2 draw and scored the winner in the reverse fixture at Vicarage Road this season.
Watford have lost all five of their previous Premier League matches against teams that have been top of the league on the day of the match and have failed to score in each of the last three.
Chelsea have won 13 of their last 14 Premier League home matches, with the only blip in this run a 1-2 defeat to Crystal Palace in April.
If Chelsea win this match then they’ll reach 48 points at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League this season; exactly double the tally that they won in the whole of 2015-16 there (24).
The Blues have already won 15 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge this season. The only top-flight seasons in which they’ve won more are 2005-06 (18) and 2009-10 (17).
Antonio Conte and Walter Mazzarri have met eight times in league competition as managers, with Mazzari only coming out on top once – this was in their first meeting (Atalanta 0-2 Napoli in January 2010). Since then, Conte has won four and drawn three of the following six meetings.
Chelsea have won all four of their Premier League games played on a Monday this season; only two teams have ever won more often on a Monday in a single season – Manchester United in 1992-93 (6) and West Ham United in 2005-06 (5).
Michy Batshuayi’s title-winning goal was only his third shot on target in the competition this season (of which he’s scored two) and the first since September 24 2016.
Posted at 1240 BST on 14/05/17.