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Weblog: The football punter

Watford and Chelsea to provide festive feast

Sky One, Premier League & Main Event, 7.45pm Wednesday

There always seem to be goals when Watford and Chelsea clash so put your money on a festive thriller at Vicarage Road.

Six of the last nine league and cup meetings between these sides have produced at least three goals so the 2-1 that there are at least four looks well worth taking.

Watford’s clean sheet at West Ham on Saturday was as rare as it was fortunate and Chelsea, having been blunted by Leicester, are under extra pressure to show more precision in front of goal.

Memories of Chelsea’s last trip to Watford in February when the home side ran out 4-1 winners, coupled with back-to-back wins which have vaulted Javi Gracia’s men up to seventh place in the Premier League, will have confidence soaring through the yellow-and-black ranks.

And with three wins in their last seven Chelsea, seen as potential title challengers not too long ago, now find themselves trailing Tottenham in fourth and in need of a festive fillip.

The visitors are 3-4 shots and boast an excellent away record with five wins from eight road trips. They’ve conceded only seven goals in those eight games.

The absence of a recognised centre-forward – Alvaro Morata isn’t fit and neither he nor Olivier Giroud have been good enough this season – has forced Eden Hazard to play through the middle where he is arguably less effective.

The magical Belgian has scored just one top-flight goal in the best part of three months and looks like he’s carrying the attack more than usual. The Alonso-Hazard whammy on the left flank was one of Chelsea’s aces over the last couple of seasons and clearly with Hazard through the middle the dynamic has changed.

He can also expect the toughest of workouts from Christian Kabasele who was mountainous at the London Stadium at the weekend.

Watford also have a midfield who can compete with anyone, including Chelsea’s, and maybe that clean sheet at West Ham – their first in eight – has given them some hope.

They did, however, ride their luck and were indebted to Ben Foster who had the game of his season between the sticks.

After a sticky period the Hornets have now amassed seven points from their last three matches and they continue to play some nice football and look a threat going forward.

Their nine home games have produced 29 goals – 3.2 per match.

Both Gracia and Maurizio Sarri will tweak their teams because of a workload. The Chelsea boss may feel more inclined to change more members of his side having played midweek and at the weekend ever since the last international break. Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Cesc Fabregas are among those awaiting a summons.

Recommendation
Over 3.5 goals

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Match in Focus

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Paraguay v Qatar

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Qatar have kept six clean sheets in their last eight games
Expert verdict
Paraguay have struggled recently and enter the Copa America with only Sunday’s friendly victory over minnows Guatemala to show for their efforts since October 2017. Qatar are no mugs – they had won seven matches in a row before losing 2-0 to Brazil earlier this month – and can claim victory.