Watford contributed so much to a pulsating lunchtime showdown at Stamford Bridge but, for once, they were to be on the receiving end of late goals as champions Chelsea came from behind to win 4-2.

Having fallen behind to a Pedro stunner following a corner that should not have been awarded, the Hornets gained an increasingly firmer foothold in the contest and were deservedly level at half-time after Abdoulaye Doucuore equalised in stoppage time.

But Marco Silva’s men, and Richarlison in particular, were ultimately left to rue what happened in the first 10 minutes of the second period.

Roberto Pereyra did put the visitors in front after being set up by the Hornets’ rising star from Brazil but either side of the goal, Richarlison missed two gilt-edged chances to score. They were misses Watford were to regret come full-time.

The visitors were dealt a blow when Silva went off injured and with 10 minutes to go Silva tried to shore things up by bringing on Ben Watson for Troy Deeney after Michy Batshuayi had equalised.

The change didn’t work as the Blues had more and more of the game in the closing stages and Cesar Azpilicueta headed home three minutes from the end of normal time before Batshuayi netted his second late on.

Silva made just the one change from the side that earned the last-gasp victory against Arsenal and it was the man who led the second-half turnaround on the pitch, Deeney, who started in place of Andre Gray.

Interestingly and somewhat surprisingly though, the Hornets boss opted to keep faith with a 3-4-3 formation and not revert to the 4-2-3-1 that would have given his side an extra man in the centre of midfield.

Despite Chelsea’s well-publicised injury problems going into the game, both David Luiz and Tiemoue Bakayoko had recovered from the injuries which forced them off in the mid-week 3-3 draw with Roma and were able to take their places in a side showing two changes from the Champions League clash.

In came Antonio Rudiger and Pedro as Davide Zappacosta and Andreas Chistensen dropped to the bench.

The Hornets started promisingly, seeing plenty of the ball, playing at a good tempo and they were to put the Blues defence under pressure when a lovely flick from Pereyra on the right enabled him to work a swift one-two with Deeney which ended with his cross being cleared behind for the first corner of the match.

Jose Holebas’ set-piece delivery from the right was punched away by Thibaut Courtois at his near post, but the Hornets kept possession alive and Tom Cleverley’s cross had to be headed clear.

The Blues were also asking questions in attack though, and Heurelho Gomes had to make his first save in the eighth minute, dropping to his right to hold the ball after it had deflected off Alvaro Morata’s knee from a Pedro cross.

And it was the Spaniard who was to make the breakthrough in quite stunning fashion in the 12th minute, although the Hornets had justifiable cause to feel aggrieved about how it came about.

Miguel Britos was shadowing Eden Hazard towards the byline and the ball clearly came off the Belgian international before it crossed the line. The officials decided otherwise though, awarding a corner which was taken short and Hazard passed it back to Pedro, who hit an incredible 20-yard curling strike that crashed into the net off the far post with the helpless Gomes rooted to make it 1-0.

Holebas was booked in the wake of the goal for dissent, but it could have got worse for the Hornets a couple of minutes later when they were carved apart by a Morata pass and Cesc Fabregas was clean through. But Gomes gambled and read the Chelsea midfielder’s intentions, saving what was an admittedly poor attempted chip.

Adrian Mariappa became the second Watford player to see yellow for scything through Pedro, but soon after Rudiger suffered the same fate for a foul on Richarlison. In between times though, the Blues scorer chanced his arm again from range but this time was a couple of yards wide of Gomes’ far post.

The home side were preferring to work it short from corners and from their next one in the 30th minute, the ball was worked back to David Luiz on the edge of the area and although he struck his shot well, it was straight down the throat of Gomes.

Courtois had to make a better stop a minute later, diving high to his right to keep out a well-struck Cleverley free-kick after Richarlison had been felled by Pedro near the left angle of the 18-yard box.

The Chelsea keeper was less tested by a Richarlison shots moments later, but the Hornets were having a reasonable spell as their opponents’ intensity just dropped a little from its earlier heights.

But it was the hosts who were to have the next effort, Gomes going full length to tip a long-range Fabregas drive around the post after he was teed up by Hazard as the Blues sprung forward when their opponents’ build-up play broke down.

Watford finished the half on the front foot though, and they were to be rewarded for their efforts in the best way possible in first-half injury-time.

Following a debate and a delay to enable Holebas to get over to the right side of the pitch, his long throw wasn’t properly cleared by the home side and the ball broke invitingly for Doucuore, who hit a lovely swerving half-volley with the outside of his right foot inside the near post to make it 1-1 at the break.

Unsurprisingly after being pegged back, Chelsea were quickly out of the blocks at the start of the second half and it took a superb Mariappa clearance, diverting the ball over his own bar, to prevent Morata from having a tap-in at the far post from a fine Azpilicueta cross.

That was a let off for the Hornets but it was their opponents who were breathing an even bigger sigh of relief moments later when a low Kiko Femenia cross put a gilt-edged chance on a plate for Richarlison but, incredibly, he put it wide from barely four yards out after taking his eye off it at the last second.

Chelsea’s reprieve was to be short-lived.

Having missed that chance, the Hornets’ boy from Brazil got his head up and got on with it, finding space on the left side of the area to receive a pass and then superbly pick out Pereya in space in the middle and he slotted past Courtois to make it 2-1 and spark wild celebrations in the 49th minute.

The Blues were rattled and, in truth, they should have gone further behind three minutes later when Britos sent in a good inswinging cross from the right and Richarlison rose highest to put another superb opportunity wide.

Morata was to be booked for a foul on Christian Kabasele but that was to be his last contribution of note in the match as he was replaced by Batshuayi.

Soon after though, the Hornets suffered a blow when Pereyra had to go off with what looked a knee injury and Andre Carrillo came on in his place.

Another change saw Willian come on for Alonso but having taken the lead, Watford had looked the more likely to score again until the first of Conte’s substitutes was to pay off in the 71st minute.

Having received the ball on the right, Willian laid the ball out to Pedro and he sent over a good cross into the heart of the area where Batshuayi got ahead of Britos to send a header looping over Gomes to make it 2-2.

The game became more level after that and Silva moved to shore things up with 10 minutes of normal time remaining, bringing on Watson for Deeney.

Batshuayi had an opportunity to double his tally soon after when a free-kick was rolled short to him in the area and he turned to fire over.

Back came Watford though, with Kabasele – upfield following a Holebas long throw – glancing a Femenia cross wide after Richarlison had helped keep the ball alive.

And then came the gutting sucker punch for the Hornets, who failed to shut down play on the right enabling Willian to send over the cross and Azpilicueta got free in the area to head home and make it 3-2.

Gray came on for the closing stages as five minutes of added time afforded Silva’s men late hope, but a mistake from Britos was to set up Chelsea’s fourth, the defender’s attempted chip intercepted by the head of Bakayoko and Batshuayi got goal-side of his man to lift the ball beyond Gomes to complete a victory that left the majority inside of Stamford Bridge breathing a collective sigh of relief.

Chelsea: Courtois; Rudiger, David Luiz, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Alonso (Willian 68); Pedro, Morata (Batshuayi 61), Hazard. Subs not used: Caballero, Musonda, Chistensen, Ampadu.

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa (Gray 90), Kabasele, Britos; Femenia, Cleverley, Doucuoure, Holebas; Pereyra (Carrillo 65), Deeney (Watson 80), Richarlison. Subs not used: Karnezis, Janmaat, Wague, Capoue.

Bookings: Holebas for dissent (13); Mariappa for a foul on Pedro (19); Rudiger for a foul on Richarlison (22); Morata for a foul on Kabasele (55); Femenia for dissent (78).

Referee: Jon Moss.