Who better than Ross Barkley to score the final goal of the Roman Abramovich era? The Chelsea midfielder ensured that Thomas Tuchel’s side did not end the season on a low by coming off the bench to grab the winner with a header in the last minute.
Chelsea, who will be under new ownership soon, had done enough to close out the Roman Abramovich era with a 2-1 win. Watford, who have made Roy Hodgson’s second farewell tour utterly miserable, had lost again despite appearing to have done enough to snatch a point after Dan Gosling’s equaliser.
It was a day of farewells. In the director’s box Todd Boehly was joined by one of his fellow investors, Hansjorg Wyss, as Chelsea wait for the American’s consortium to complete its takeover for the club. There was a standing ovation for Antonio Rüdiger, who is joining Real Madrid, while Cesar Azpilicueta made what could be his final appearance for the club.
It was not exactly the most invigorating of ways for the curtain to fall on the Abramovich era. Even Mike Dean, taking charge of his final match as a referee before stepping into the VAR room, seemed reluctant to take centre stage. There were no comedy flourishes from everyone’s favourite showman, no no-look yellow cards, and that lack of chutzpah from the man with the whistle was matched by the action on the pitch, with both sides looking more than ready for the season to end.
The tone was set by Tuchel’s team selection. Instead of taking the opportunity to use some academy players the head coach gave Chelsea’s fans a chance to remember a couple of forgotten faces. There was a rare start in midfield for Saúl Ñíguez, whose loan from Atletico Madrid has not worked out, and even more astonishingly there was an appearance for Kenedy, who had gone so long without playing in the league for Chelsea that Watford seemed to be utterly thrown by his presence at left wing-back.
What an impact Kenedy made during the early stages. The Brazilian was full of energy as he rampaged down the wing and ran at Kiko Femenía. He even tried a cheeky shot with the outside of his left foot after one early flurry and he soon left his mark on the game, his decisiveness impressive as he took a pass from Hakim Ziyech in the 11th minute and fired in a low cross for Kai Havertz to give Chelsea the lead from close range.
Watford, whose main goal was trying not to finish bottom, already looked desperate. The marking was nonexistent when Havertz prodded the ball past Daniel Bachmann and the game already had the feel of a pre-season friendly. Even Tuchel was not his usual animated self on the touchline. The German remained impassive on his seat on the bench for much of the afternoon and it was not long before Chelsea began to toil, familiar failings on home soil threatening to offer Watford an unlikely route back into the contest.
As ever Tuchel’s side made heavy weather killing off limited opponents. Havertz, who was preferred up front to Romelu Lukaku, undoubtedly should have scored more than once during the first half. Finishing, though, remains an issue for the German. He shot too close to Bachmann after being released by Mason Mount when the game was still goalless and was unfortunate shortly before half-time, clipping the bar with a sharp effort.
Watford, who were watched by their incoming manager Rob Edwards, belatedly stirred. Edo Kayembe shot wide from 18 yards and Kiko had a shot pushed wide by Édouard Mendy, who had to be at his best at the start of the second half, flying off his line to deny Joao Pedro an equalising goal.
A second goal proved elusive for Chelsea. Tuchel made changes, bringing on Malang Sarr. Rudiger came off and was replaced by Barkley, who drew a save from Bachmann with a stunning shot from 25 yards.
But Watford were still in the game. With three minutes left they pounced. Adam Masina, on as a substitute, was given acres of space on the left to cross and Gosling was there at the far post, waiting to head past Mendy.
Chelsea responded well. Havertz combined with Reece James, who twisted and turned on the right before producing a gem of a cross with the outside of his right foot. Barkley headed home and Chelsea had their ninth home win of the season.