Chelsea welcome Javi Gracia’s Watford to Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon, with Maurizio Sarri’s side still searching for a definitive top four spot.
After drawing with fellow UEFA Champions League chasers Manchester United, Chelsea have just two games remaining to return to football’s standout tournament.
Whereas The Blues’ season has been an uneven one, Watford have wowed for the majority, with an Emirates FA Cup final date under the belt and a top 10 finish all but secured.
An Eden Hazard double gave Chelsea all three points in their previous meeting at Vicarage Road and Sarri’s side will be full of confidence in front of a home crowd; The Blues have lost just one English Premier League game at The Bridge in 2018/2019.
Before the fixture, we have taken a look at three players to have featured for both Chelsea and Watford.
Josh McEachran (Chelsea 2010-2015, Watford 2013-2014)
Josh McEachran made an impression on Chelsea scouts whilst plying his trade in Sunday League football. Signing at the age of seven, McEachran was on the path that many young boys could only dream of, making an instant mark as he aided The Blues’ youth team in securing their first FA Youth Cup for 50 years.
It was a revolving door in the reserves for McEachran, unable to lock down a consistent starting place, yet continued to impress the powers above. So much so, he was called up to the seniors in none other than the UEFA Champions League, receiving his full debut in the 4-1 drubbing of minnows MSK Zilina; he earned the prestigious title of becoming the first player to be born after the creation of the competition to then take part in it.
Like a London bus, a second showing in a stellar environment arrived in the English Premier League, replacing Ramires in a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City. His first start came in the reverse leg against Zilina, followed by a full 90 minutes in the face of Marseille. Carlo Ancelotti awarded McEachran with 17 appearances in his breakthrough season, rightly being named the clubs Young Player of the Year.
A new manager meant a shift in dynamics at Chelsea, Ancelotti being replaced by Andreas Villa-Boas; this did not bode well for McEachran, playing on just five occasions as the Portuguese boss could not deliver from the dugout. Thus, a series of loan moves began for the player who was once heralded as Chelsea’s ‘wonder-kid’.
From Swansea City to Middlesbrough, the midfielder joined up with Watford in the Sky Bet Championship. Whilst The Hornets finished 13th, it was an unlucky period for McEachran, appearing eight times before his loan expired.
Nathan Ake (Chelsea 2012-2017, Watford 2015-2016)
Another name with huge promise, but ultimately undone by Chelsea’s constant unwillingness to give youth a try.
Nathan Ake arrived as a 16-year old from Feyenoord in 2011 and within 12 months he’d already made his English Premier League debut for The Blues. Roberto Di Matteo utilised Ake as a defensive midfielder in their UEFA Europa League quarter final fight with Ruben Kazan, despite his natural position in the back four. Unfortunately, Di Matteo chose not to play the Dutchman during the final, held in his home country, as Chelsea beat Benfica to secure European glory.
Ake then followed in the familiar footsteps of McEachran; he was voted Chelsea’s Young Player of the Year in his maiden campaign, evidently not enough, however, to remain at Stamford Bridge as he was sent out on loan.
After putting pen to paper on a five-year deal with Chelsea, Ake remained in the top division with a newly promoted Watford side. Again, the club finished in the 13th place, their new acquisition a catalyst to the success; a second Young Player of the Year award swung Ake’s way, The Hornets clearly buzzing with his contribution.
Lenny Pidgeley (Chelsea 2003-2006, Watford 2003-2004)
Having been born in the capital, Lenny Pidgeley’s wildest imaginations became a reality as he signed for Chelsea in 2002.
Perhaps Pidgeley’s visions didn’t quite live up to expectations, swiftly shipped off to Watford for a largely undocumented term, although the keeper mustered 27 appearances whilst playing in Hertfordshire.
Times were changing for Chelsea, with the arrival of Jose Mourinho at their helm. The ‘Special One’ spectacularly swept all that laid before him in England, winning the English Premier League at the first time of asking in record breaking style. Amongst all the excitement, Pidgeley became third in the pecking order behind summer signing Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini and it was not until the final home game of the season that he got in between the sticks at Stamford Bridge.
As another season came rolling in, Pidgeley could only warm his gloves from the substitute bench, making just the singular start once more against Newcastle United.
By Nathaniel Kay