LONDON • "That's why we're champions," crowed the Matthew Harding Stand yesterday after Cesar Azpilicueta, awkwardly but decisively, nudged in the goal that in effect settled a breathless affair that saw Chelsea run out 4-2 winners in the English Premier League.
In truth, Chelsea showed plenty of reasons why a repeat of last season's title triumph looks a long shot but that analysis will come later: This was, ultimately, a triumph of guts and class on a day when Marco Silva's fine Watford side had threatened to overrun them.
A difficult week would have got a lot worse for manager Antonio Conte had Chelsea suffered a third successive league defeat for the first time since the final months of Jose Mourinho's second spell in charge two years ago.
Conte said afterwards: "My players showed me that we have the attitude to fight and change the situation and get a different result. It was very important.
"It is not simple because we are facing difficult situations but the spirit and commitment is right. I'm satisfied for the performance."
Pedro's 12th-minute curling effort provided the perfect start for the champions and they should have doubled their lead in the 17th when Alvaro Morata's cross sent Cesc Fabregas clear with only Heurelho Gomes to beat, but he managed only to chip the ball into the goalkeeper's arms.
Watford were fortunate to escape, but having survived, they began to gain a foothold in the game.
ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
Chelsea 4 Watford 2
Huddersfield 2 Man United 1
Man City 3 Burnley 0
Newcastle 1 Palace 0
Swansea 1 Leicester 2
Stoke 1 Bournemouth 2
Southampton v West Brom
Everton v Arsenal
Tottenham v Liverpool
Confirmation Conte's side had lost their grip came in the second minute of first-half injury time when Abdoulaye Doucoure fired home with a first-time shot after David Luiz failed to clear Jose Holebas' long throw.
The equaliser shifted the mood inside the stadium and four minutes after the restart, Watford's highly-rated Brazilian Richarlison picked out the unmarked Roberto Pereyra, who finished cooly from 12 metres.
Desperate to inject fresh energy into his side, Conte introduced Batshuayi and Willian. The decision was rewarded when the Belgian headed home from Pedro's 71st-minute cross.
The match could have gone either way, with Watford's Christian Kasabele guilty of missing two free headers. But it was Azpilicueta who headed home Willian's cross in the 87th minute to ease the pressure on Conte.
Batshuayi then bundled a deceptive fourth in injury time.
From the jaws of a rout on their own turf, Chelsea had snatched the kind of victory that could alter a season's course.
Azpilicueta told Sky Sports: "We know it is a long season and we will have ups and downs. We have had a difficult period and this is the first step."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE