Ziyech winner at Watford keeps Chelsea top

Chelsea underlined the old adage that title contender can win when playing poorly as Hakim Ziyech came off the bench to secure a 2-1 victory at Watford to keep it top of the Premier League on Wednesday.

Thomas Tuchel’s side was far from its efficient best at Vicarage Road but had enough attacking quality to emerge with three points and stay ahead of Manchester City and Liverpool.

Not that Tuchel took a great deal of satisfaction from the result — the German not holding back in his assessment.

“We were lucky. We should admit it,” Tuchel said. “Sometimes you need it. Today we could not reach this level. We were not ready for this game. We are to blame.

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“We never found the right attitude. It was a big exception from the rule. We conceded a lot of chances in the first half and did not create much. We were very lucky to escape with a win.”

After a 32-minute suspension while a fan who had suffered a cardiac arrest was treated by emergency services, Chelsea took the lead when Mason Mount coolly converted after a well-worked move in the 29th minute.

But Watford deservedly levelled before the break through Nigerian Emmanuel Dennis.

Ziyech came on for injured defender Trevoh Chalobah on the hour and struck the winner 12 minutes later with the outstanding Mount turning provider.

Chelsea leads the standings with 33 points from 14 games, with City on 32 and Liverpool on 31.

Claudio Ranieri’s side will take heart from the way it pushed the league leader but is just one place and three points above the relegation zone.

“We deserved at least a point but that’s football,” former Chelsea boss Ranieri said. “I’m very satisfied with our performance. Sooner or later the points will arrive.”

Tuchel made six changes from the side that drew with Manchester United at the weekend and Chelsea looked disjointed for much of the evening.

Watford was the better team either side of the suspension but fell behind to Chelsea’s first move of real quality.

The ball was played to Marcos Alonso down the left and he slipped it into Kai Havertz who shifted it across to the unmarked Mount who had time to pick his spot.

Watford responded well with Danny Rose testing Edouard Mendy with a powerful shot. Chelsea continued to stutter and when Ruben Loftus-Cheek lost possession in midfield, Moussa Sissoko powered forward and picked out Dennis whose shot took a deflection on its way past Edouard Mendy.

The hosts could have been ahead with Mendy making a fine save and Sissoko scuffing a decent opportunity.

Watford continued to look a threat in the second half but Chelsea gradually began to assert some control and the quality it has on its bench eventually told as Ziyech came on to secure the points with his first league goal of the season.

Mount, Chelsea’s best player, was played into space down the left and his precise low cross was met by Ziyech whose powerful first-time shot beat Watford keeper Daniel Bachmann for pace.

Tuchel accepted some of the blame for his team’s approach.

“It felt like we were not ready for the long balls, the pressure. When we won the ball, how to escape out of the pressure. We had big problems individually and as a team. We never felt solid, it felt like we were never in control.”

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When the dust settles, however, Tuchel might look back on Wednesday as a vital victory in his attempt to keep ahead of Manchester City and Liverpool in the title race.

“We need a lot of points if we want to stay in the title race,” Tuchel said. “We felt like we lost two points against Burnley and Manchester United.

“We stole minimum two, maybe three back today. Watford deserved more today.”

With another big game at West Ham United on Saturday, Tuchel has an injury worry over Reece James who missed the trip to Watford. “I cannot say today. Yesterday he was in too much pain to travel. He got a kick on the ankle,” Tuchel said.

In other fixtures, fourth-placed West Ham was held to a 1-1 draw at Brighton.

An 89th-minute overhead kick from Neal Maupay frustrated West Ham at Brighton after the Londoners had taken an early lead through Czech midfielder Tomas Soucek’s header.

Leicester City had to come from behind twice to get a 2-2 draw at Southampton with James Maddison’s 49th-minute strike earning Brendan Rodgers’s side a point that leaves the Foxes in eighth place.

Sixth placed Wolverhampton Wanderers was frustrated in a 0-0 draw at home to 18th-placed Burnley who has drawn five of its last seven games.

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