The Blues led as early as the fifth minute, 20-year-old striker Daniel Sturridge staking his claim to fill the void left by African Cup of Nations absentee Didier Drogba by converting from six yards out after the visitors had failed to clear a Frank Lampard corner.
The second goal had a hint of farce but was just reward for Chelsea’s dominance. Joe Cole had volleyed Malouda’s cross into the Watford penalty area and triggered an extraordinary game of pinball. The ball cannoned between Adrian Mariappa, Frank Lampard and Scott Loach before finally bouncing off John Eustace for an own-goal. There was also a slice of luck about Chelsea’s third goal when Yuri Zhirkov’s shot deflected off Malouda and beyond Loach. But then Lampard scored a cracker from outside the penalty area and Sturridge calmly converted Ashley Cole’s cross for his second to seal an emphatic win.
The home side conjured 10 corners in the opening half-hour, and three goals within the first 22 minutes. Watford were spikier thereafter, but, by then, they could play with the freedom of a condemned side. Their defending hardly improved at any point.
Whilst it’s easy enough to be smart with the benefit of hindsight, it’s difficult to remember a Watford squad as ill-equipped to handle a match like this. That’s not a comment intended to downplay the very great achievements of the squad this season… but any recipe for a cup upset against any senior opposition (let alone the league leaders) really does demand a bit of physical presence and a bit of pace, and we have neither – quite apart from the superior quality, each Chelsea player was a good three inches and half a stone bigger than their opposite number. Our biggest asset (minus the sorely missed Helguson) is the movement and interplay of our midfield, but Chelsea are far more used to this sort of thing than our regular opponents and more adept at dealing with it.
The club message in the programme relates to the Russo brothers quitting from the Watford board and then demanding back the money they had loaned the club. Various media outlets reported we were on the verge of administration but this was averted due to Lord Ashcroft paying off the £4.9 million demanded.
Nottingham Forest extended their unbeaten away record but had to survive a spirited Watford display. Watford’s Don Cowie came closest to breaking the deadlock when his 77th-minute shot struck the post.
First off, one should perhaps (in the absence of Peterboro thunks) acknowledge that it’s rather good to actually have a club to trundle out to watch at silly’o’clock on Boxing Day. However genuine or otherwise the threat to the club’s future presented by Russo’s disgusting posturing in the wake of the AGM, it felt real enough. We’re here, watching football. That will do for starters; the future comes later.
New passing game, new passing formation. Fine. But the real benefit thus far has been the protection afforded the defence. It speaks volumes that on a day when John Eustace was below par, Charlton rarely got more than a sniff – having Eustace and Williamson, fantastic today, as two sitting midfielders makes us a whole lot more secure. It does ask a lot of the four attacking players though (4-3-3 my arse). Speaking of whom….