WATFORD, ENGLAND – Antonio Conte’s future as Chelsea manager was cast into further doubt when the struggling English Premier League champion was thrashed by Watford 4-1 on Monday.
The west London club, which lost 3-0 at home to Bournemouth last week, was poor again as Tiemoue Bakayoko was sent off inside half an hour for a second yellow card for a second woeful tackle.
Chelsea has lost three of its last four games in all competitions, and sits fourth in the league, a point above Tottenham.
“Our performance was very bad from the start,” Conte said. “Maybe I made a mistake in the starting 11. My choices were very poor because our start was very poor.”
Conte again deployed Eden Hazard as Chelsea’s main attacking option with new signing Olivier Giroud on the bench.
Ahead of the game, Conte called on Chelsea’s hierarchy to “prepare a statement . . . to say they trust me in my work,” but it was another dismal evening for the reigning Premier League champions, who are currently 19 points adrift of runaway leader Manchester City.
It was the perfect home debut for new Watford manager Javi Gracia as the team climbed to 11th place on the table.
The challenge became harder for Conte and his players when Bakayoko was dismissed.
It went from bad to worse for Chelsea when Watford received a penalty after Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois burst from his line to close down the onrushing Gerard Deulofeu, the new arrival on loan from Barcelona who fell over too easily.
Troy Deeney, whose only previous league goals this season were penalties against Arsenal and Manchester United, stuck home the resulting spot kick to give Watford a deserved halftime lead.
Chelsea’s equalizer was as brilliant as it was unexpected, Hazard dancing past Etienne Capoue before finishing perfectly past Watford goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis from 25 yards.
But Watford was back in front two minutes later as Daryl Janmaat collected the ball on the right before getting into the box, exchanging passes with Roberto Pereyra and keeping his cool to finish past Courtois.
With Chelsea committing players forward, Deulofeu capitalized to lead a counterattack which he started and finished with a well-taken 88th-minute strike.
Pereyra compounded Chelsea’s misery with a fourth in stoppage time as Watford won a match in the league for the first time since a 2-1 win over Leicester on Dec. 26.
Conte said he will lose no sleep over the threat he could be sacked less than a year after winning the Premier League.
“Tomorrow is another day. I can be the Chelsea coach or not, what is the problem?” said Conte. “I go to sleep without a problem.
“I try to do everything and, if this is enough OK, otherwise the club take a different decision. The life goes on.”
The manager has also repeatedly complained throughout the current campaign at his lack of input toward the Premier League giant’s recruitment strategy.
However, Conte also delivered some stinging criticism to his players, who he said “played with fear.”
“I try to continue to work to try to improve different aspects of my players, but today I think our performance was very poor,” added Conte.
“To play football in a big club it means you must have personality. It is simple to play when there is the confidence.
“In this type of moment you can see who is (made) for a great club, to play with personality to risk something.”