Written by By Laura Jane Turner, CNN
“Where does the cat go when the Wolf comes home?” This is the question upon which Watford’s dinner date with league leader Chelsea descends. But as Watford midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah put it, it’s not the appearance of the Wolf that really matters tonight; it’s his one at the entrance.
With Chelsea just one point above London rivals Tottenham, and two-time defending champion Leicester City only two points further back, Watford holds the key to the quartet of clubs topping the table.
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But despite his confidence, Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte has faced a difficult week that has seen him criticized for Italy’s loss to Macedonia last week, and his own post-match comments that the FA should prevent players performing off the pitch. But Conte insists his personal issues will not affect Chelsea’s performance tonight, and insists he does not anticipate any mood changes from the Chelsea squad.
“This is football, it’s very important to understand the games that you can play and the games that you can not play,” Conte said to reporters on Wednesday. “First you have to respect everyone, and the game against Watford is very important for us to stay in the Premier League. The game also gives us great experience and the fans enjoy it.”
In truth, it’s not just the fans who will enjoy the game. The players have strong individual interest, with an opportunity to pit their wits against one of the standout performers in England this season.
Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata, who has led the league scoring charts with five goals so far, will face a Watford defense he has encountered at the highest level. In fact, in 10 games over two seasons at Real Madrid, Morata scored three goals against Chelsea.
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Alongside Morata, there’s also a strong vein of good form running through Chelsea’s forward line. Five-goal Michy Batshuayi has a goal to his name against all the contenders bar Spurs. A strike rate that makes him the top Briton (according to bookmakers Ladbrokes) against the Premier League elite.
Yet to come up against this front line in victory is Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes. In 11 games against Chelsea, Gomes has faced the Blues six times and won just one of them, which was against Chelsea’s own goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Even if he struggles, however, it’s unlikely that any errors from Gomes will keep Chelsea out of the four goals on offer for the big guns tonight. Watford’s main interest is to contain Chelsea, both through midfield and front-line. On the whole, Watford has done so well against the top seven teams, with a record of just three goals conceded from eight games. And this week they saw off Sunderland — the Premier League’s lowest-scoring team — 4-1.
Rivals Tottenham dropped a point for the second match running at Huddersfield, while Leicester City did the same against Swansea. Yet those two draws have been preceded by a couple of loses from Tottenham and Leicester, and a draw from Spurs themselves — last weekend’s 2-2 draw with a Manchester United side that features striker Romelu Lukaku, who has four more goals than any other player in the league.
All this leaves Chelsea in a good position for a win at Vicarage Road, and the league’s defending champions certainly have the personnel to make up for any slip-ups. But especially in recent weeks, Chelsea has only managed to put in five points away from home. So while Chelsea head to Vicarage Road tonight on an upward trajectory, it is Watford who hold the key to finishing the weekend in the top four and keeping their Premier League survival hopes alive.