Ross Barkley came off the bench to head in a late winner as Chelsea saw off Watford on the final day of the Premier League season and sent Roy Hodgson into retirement on the back of another defeat.
There was little on the line for either side ahead of kick-off, with Chelsea guaranteed third place – barring a defeat and a monumental goal difference swing by Tottenham – and Watford already consigned to the Championship.
That feeling was backed up by each case starting line-ups, with Chelsea handing Saul Niguez a rare start and Kenedy being brought in for his first league start for the club in five years.
- Saul Niguez and Kenedy made rare starts for Chelsea, while Cesar Azpilicueta, Mason Mount and Kai Havertz also returned to the team
- Trevoh Chalobah, Marcos Alonso, Jorginho, Christian Pulisic and Romelu Lukaku dropped out of the Blues’ side
- Antonio Rudiger started in his final game for Chelsea, but there was no place for the departing Andreas Christensen
- Roy Hodgson made six changes to his side for his final game in management, bringing in Daniel Bachmann, Kiko Femenia, Samir, Hassane Kamara, Tom Cleverley and Joshua King
- Ben Foster, Jeremy Ngakia, Craig Cathcart, Adam Masina, Dan Gosling and Samuel Kalu dropped out of the Hornets’ side
Roy Hodgson was also feeling generous, making six changes to the Watford side that was thrashed at home by Leicester last weekend.
It was Chelsea who started brighter, with Kenedy in particular looking keen to take his opportunity, and the Brazilian wing-back claimed the assist for the opening goal when his low cross from the left was turned home by an unmarked Kai Havertz (11).
The Blues have never lost at home to Watford in the Premier League and looked set to go on to dominate a side that had lost 26 of their 37 league games.
However, the hosts rarely threatened Daniel Bachmann’s goal and it was the visitors who looked more like scoring as Thomas Tuchel’s side went off the boil.
Edo Kayembe went close for the Hornets after errors from Reece James and Edouard Mendy, while the Chelsea goalkeeper had to make an impressive save early in the second half after Joao Pedro waltzed through the Blues’ defense.
In truth, Chelsea’s supporters seemed more concerned with events at the Etihad, where they greeted each Manchester City goal as if it was one of their own as they hoped to see Liverpool pipped to the title.
The home fans were also in full voice to send off Antonio Rudiger, who was replaced by Barkley in the second half in his final appearance for the club before joining Real Madrid, and to welcome Ben Chilwell, who came on as a late substitute for his first appearance in seven months after recovering from a serious knee injury.
But it was the Watford fans who were making all the noise shortly after when Gosling stole in at the far post to nod home a left-wing cross from Adam Masina, who was given far too much space to pick out his team-mate (87 ).
It looked like being a familiar tale for Chelsea, who came into the game on the back of just one home win in their last five league visits to Stamford Bridge, but Barkley was on hand to ensure the Blues ended the season on a winning note when his header from James’ cross squirmed past Daniel Bachmann in the Watford goal (90).
James helps to bail out Blues
Chelsea’s season has been a tough one to evaluate, with the sanctions placed on the club overshadowing events on the field in recent months.
Thomas Tuchel’s side also lost on penalties to a generational Liverpool side in successive cup finals and, while they won the European Super Cup and Club World Cup, failed to come close to lifting the Premier League or Champions League.
As such, Chelsea’s successes this season can perhaps be seen in the progress of a handful of their younger players on the field, including Kai Havertz and Mason Mount, who was crowned as the club’s player of the year on the pitch at full time.
But perhaps the biggest improvement has come from Reece James, who once again was crucial for the Blues as they salvaged an all-too-rare home win against Watford.
The England international’s versatility was again utilized by Tuchel, as he began the game at wing-back before moving to full-back when the head coach switched his formation in the second half.
But his defensive responsibilities did not prevent James from making his way to the byline as the game headed towards full-time, where he twisted his man inside out before digging out a cross with the outside of his foot that perfectly found Barkley at the far post.
James ends the season with nine Premier League assists – more than twice as many as in his previous two campaigns combined. A sign of the 22-year-old’s creativity is that only Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson recorded more assists during the campaign.
No matter what happens to Chelsea’s squad this summer, it is sure that James will be a key pillar in the seasons ahead.
Chelsea: Mendy (7), Azpilicueta (6), Silva (7), Rudiger (6), James (7), Kante (6), Saul (5), Kenedy (7), Ziyech (6), Havertz (7), Mount (7).
Subs: Sarr (6), Barkley (7), Chilwell (6).
Watford: Bachmann (6), Femenia (6), Kabasele (6), Samir (6), Kamara (6), Sissoko (6), Cleverley (7), Kayembe (7), Sema (6), Pedro (7), King (6).
Subs: Hernandez (6), Masina (7), Gosling (7).
Man of the match: Reece James
Tuchel: No time for holiday amid rebuild
Thomas Tuchel says he has no time to reward himself with a holiday after Chelsea’s arduous campaign across six competitions as he believes the Blues must begin a “rebuild” of their squad this summer.
Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen will both leave Stamford Bridge on free transfers at their end of their contracts, while there are questions over a number of players’ futures, including Cesar Azpilicueta, Jorginho and N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea are waiting for Todd Boehly’s takeover of the club to be finalized before they can once again operate in the transfer market, and Tuchel says the delay caused by the sanctions have left them playing catch up with their rivals.
“No, it’s impossible to go on holiday. There’s too many things to clarify,” Tuchel said. “The disadvantage in terms of timing for the rebuild is big and we have to be fast and smart. It’s a rebuild that is necessary for us and it makes things more challenging.
“We have clear ideas for the profiles and characteristics of these players, but it’s not like you put a name on the list and then you get the player. You have to convince the player, you have to speak to other clubs. So there’s normally a lot of work to do. “
Tuchel was also asked about moving away from his tried and tested three-at-the-back formation in the wake of departures in his defense, but he said: “I think the structure suits our players very well. It suits Reece James and Ben Chilwell very well because they have a bit more freedom to attack on both sides.
“There were some reasons to play this structure and we were very successful, so it’s not the plan to change it. But maybe we are forced to – we are forced to be passive.”
Hodgson: No regrets over final job
Roy Hodgson has pledged to end a managerial career that spanned five decades now that Watford’s season is over, and he said their narrow defeat at Chelsea was “typical” of his side’s fortune since he arrived at Vicarage Road in January.
The 74-year-old won just two of his 18 matches in charge, and he said: “Today was typical I thought, to do so well throughout and get a very good goal that equalises, it would have been nice if the players could have got that reward for their efforts and come off with a point.
“As it is, they come out once again with a defeat, albeit a very honorable one considering we’ve been relegated for a while now.”
Hodgson insisted he had no regrets about taking the Watford job, despite the fact he has now ended his career with relegation.
“I’m happy with the decision because I took it with my eyes wide open and I thought it was the right thing to do. Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out, but that does not mean I’m now looking back with regret . “