Antonio Conte sat behind a table, talking about pressure and Chelsea’s great escape against Watford. He clasped and unclasped his hands as he spoke. Sometimes, he gripped his wedding ring with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and twisted it a couple of times. Then he talked about pressure again.
He said he didn’t feel pressure. Not in the way that we imagined it anyway. He said that when Chelsea were 2-1 down and being outplayed by Marco Silva’s buoyant young side, he was not thinking about the fact that Roman Abramovich is not a patient man.
He was not thinking, he said, about how Roberto di Matteo and Jose Mourinho were two of the managers who lost their jobs at Stamford Bridge around the onset of winter and on the back of indifferent runs of form. He did not feel haunted by their ghosts.
Michy Batshuayi’s double completed a stunning turnaround for Chelsea to come out 4-2 winners against Watford
Pedro opened the scoring for Chelsea when his bending effort from 25 yards pinged off the post and into the back of the net
But Abdoulaye Doucoure was out to spoil the party as he lashed home an impressive equaliser just before half-time
But it was Pereyra who dealt what looked like the killer blow when he calmly slotted past Thibaut Courtois after lax defending
Before Michy Batshuayi’s header levelled the game with just under 20 minutes left to play at Stamford Bridge
Cesar Azpilicueta headed home in the 87th-minute to finish a brilliant comeback from the Blues, who looked down and out
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte dives into the crowd after Azpilicueta puts the Blues in front with three minutes to play
Before the Belgium international rubbed salt into the wound by scoring his second of the afternoon deep into injury time
The substitute striker celebrates a job well done with Willian after his second makes it a joyous afternoon at Stamford Bridge
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He was not thinking about how his team had started the day nine points behind league leaders Manchester City. He did not feel the weight of negativity bearing down on him at the prospect of a third successive league defeat, a prospect wiped away by two clever substitutions and a late blizzard of three Chelsea goals.
‘I must be honest,’ Conte said. ‘I do feel a lot of pressure but not this type of pressure. If the club decides to sack me, well… I trust in my work. I try to give everything to the club but I will never be worried about that kind of pressure.
‘The pressure that I feel is that I want to give satisfaction for our fans. I feel this type of pressure because the fans have shown me a lot of patience. This is the type of pressure that I feel and only this.’
Even if Conte was not concerned for his job, plenty of others were worrying for him. After leading Chelsea so impressively to the title, this season has been born under a bad sign for Conte. He has become trapped in a spiral of negativity that was threatening to spin him out of control.
He had poked Abramovich and the club’s board several times already this season, complaining about a lack of investment and a thin squad and trying to make a point by wearing his club tracksuit on the sidelines in the opening games of the season.
The visitors gather in a huddle pre-match hoping to continue their fine start to the current Premier League campaign
Meanwhile, the Chelsea players go through their ritual of wishing each other good luck ahead of the lunchtime kick-off
But it was the Spaniard who knocked the wind out of the visitors when his stunning effort sailed beyond Heurelho Gomes
The winger sprints towards the Stamford Bridge faithful after his superb curling effort puts Antonio Conte’s side 1-0 up
Pedro is engulfed by his team-mates near the corner flag after Chelsea take the initiative during the clash
Pedro has been involved in more goals for Chelsea in 2017 than any other player – 12 goals, nine assists.
History tells us that approach does not work for long at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho, in particular, would attest to that. You poke the bear once or twice and then, if you are smart, you leave it alone. Otherwise, it wakes and it attacks you and shuts you down.
If this comeback win against a bold, exciting, technically assured Watford side is to be a turning point, however, much will have to improve in the weeks ahead. Conte has cut a thoroughly disenchanted figure for much of this season and he will know that Chelsea barely deserved to escape with a point from this match, let alone three.
Watford should have been out of sight by early in the second half and Chelsea only had a foothold in the game because of two breathtaking misses by Richarlison.
Perhaps it was apt that second-half substitute Michy Batshuayi, the man who won them the league with a winner at West Brom last season, should drag Conte back from the brink. It was Batshuayi, who grabbed the equaliser in the 71st minute and then, after Cesar Azpilicueta had put Chelsea ahead, Batshuayi squeezed home the goal that made the game safe late in injury time.
Fresh from their victory over Arsenal last week, Watford had started like a team that deserved to be in the Champions League positions. One beautiful early exchange between Roberto Pereyra and Troy Deeney left David Luiz looking bewildered as they played the ball around him.
Cesc Fabregas then squanders a golden opportunity for the hosts, when his chip is saved by the outstretched Gomes in goal
Watford boss Marco Silva grows frustrated as he remonstrates with the linesman following his team conceding the first goal
Doucoure, who has scored every shot he has had on target this term, converted his fourth goal of the season to gain parity
The Frenchman spoiled an almost-perfect first half for Chelsea after the hosts fail to sufficiently clear from a set-piece
Doucoure beams as he runs up the touchline while his team-mates hunt him down in an attempt to celebrate with him
However Chelsea ruined Watford’s fine start soon afterwards. Eden Hazard tangled with Miguel Britos on the byline and even though the ball bounced into touch off the Belgian’s heel, Chelsea were awarded a corner. The Watford fans protested loudly. From the corner, Hazard worked the ball to Pedro, who was lurking on the edge of the area.
Pedro did not feel the need to take a touch. He hit the ball first time, curling it viciously out of the reach of Heurelho Gomes who could only stand and watch as it cannoned off the angle of post and crossbar and bounced into the net.
A few minutes later, Chelsea should have been two goals up. Alvaro Morata slid a fine pass through the Watford defence to Cesc Fabregas, who was ten yards out with only Gomes to beat. Fabregas tried to lift the ball delicately over Gomes but the goalkeeper stood up and caught it easily. It was a decent attempt by Fabregas but bold efforts like that look foolish when they don’t work.
Watford forced the equaliser they deserved and Conte must have feared in the dying seconds of the half. The visitors were awarded a throw-in close to the Chelsea byline deep into injury time and Tom Cleverley stopped Pereyra taking it so Jose Holebas, who has a long throw, could run over instead.
It was a risk because referee Jon Moss kept looking at his watch and seemed to be about to blow for half-time. Holebas even stumbled in his first run-up and had to retreat and prepare for the throw-in a second time. When he eventually launched it into the Chelsea box, the defence struggled to clear it and when it bounced to Abdoulaye Doucoure, he lashed it past Thibault Courtois into the corner of the net.
Watford come out firing in the second half and the pressure is telling as Pereyra sticks one past the Belgian goalkeeper
The Argentine runs off to celebrate as captain Troy Deeney (background) shows his delight at the stunning turnaround
Batshuayi replaces Chelsea’s summer signing Alvaro Morata after 65 minutes as Conte looks to ring the changes
Richarlison rues a crucial miss when Watford were winning 2-1, which would have potentially put the tie to bed
Watford did not miss a beat when the second half started. They began it just as they had ended the first and should have been ahead after their first attack. Richarlison ran on to a superbly weighted cross and got in front of his marker at the back post. It seemed he had only to touch the ball to score but somehow he sliced it wide with his left foot.
It was only a short reprieve for Chelsea, though. Watford were full of confidence now and with their next attack, they carved the champions open again. Richarlison was the provider, threading a ball across the area to where Pereyra waited in acres of space. He took his time, picked his spot and swept the ball past Courtois.
A few minutes after that, Richarlison should have put Watford further ahead with another golden opportunity. The ball found him unmarked a few yards out but he mistimed his header tamely wide. Chelsea were reeling. Their fans were growing angry and fretful.
Watford looked in total control but their profligacy in front of goal came back to haunt them 20 minutes from the end. Chelsea mounted a rare attack and when Pedro swung in an inviting cross from the right, Batshuayi rose to glance it past Gomes. Azpilicueta put Chelsea ahead with a downward header three minutes from time and Batshuayi put the match beyond reach with what was all but the last kick of the game.
Batshuayi then broke Watford hearts when his 71st-minute header took away Watford’s lead at Stamford Bridge
But the Spain international netted a crucial goal to ensure the Blues went into the lead with just a couple of minutes left
The wing back jumps and punches his fist as he approaches the crowd as he is the man who looks to have sealed the win
The substitute striker, who came on just after the hour, pokes home his second of the afternoon to add insult to injury
The 24-year-old is congratulated by his Chelsea team-mates as the result is sealed five minutes into stoppage time