Chelsea needed a hero.
And with 20 minutes remaining on Saturday, they were heading for a third straight league defeat for the first time since November 2015, Pedro’s stunning early opener having been reversed with two Watford goals a few minutes either side of half-time.
Conte must have felt on the brink. Constant talk of an imminent departure at the end of the season had only increased the tension. “I feel a lot of pressure,” admitted the Italian, who on Saturday afternoon was forced to turn to his bench for a solution.
Big-money arrival Alvaro Morata had struggled against a resolute and impressive Watford side at Stamford Bridge. Frustrated by a lack of reinforcements this past summer, Conte had only one option.
“Against Crystal Palace, [Michy Batshuayi’s] performance was not good,” he conceded of the £31 million striker who made just a single Premier League start last season.
Time and again he has been overlooked, first for Diego Costa, and now Morata. His most famous moment in a Chelsea shirt had arrived via one of his 19 cameo appearances last term, when he came off the bench to net the title-winning goal in a 1-0 win over West Brom in May.
Then, in September, he arrived late to clinch a famous European victory over Atletico Madrid via a 94th-minute winner in the Spanish capital.
But still there was is no room for him in the starting lineup. ‘Batman’, eternally the Chelsea sidekick in a way that defies the nickname, was once again asked to step up and save his side in their hour of need.
And it was quite an entrance. First he took flight, sailing through the air to send an unstoppable header into the far corner, bringing Chelsea level as Watford were threatening to put the game beyond the reigning champions.
And deep in stoppage time, as Marco Silva’s side began pouring forward in search of an equaliser after Cesar Azpilicueta had nodded Chelsea into the lead, Batman showed super strength and nerves of steel to pounce on a defensive error and seal all three points.
Singled out as the villain of the piece in last week’s shock defeat to rock-bottom Crystal Palace, Batshuayi was once again the hero.
Since the start of last season, only Olivier Giroud (7) has scored more goals as a sub in the Premier League than Chelsea’s very own Beligan marvel (6).
Asked what Conte had told him as he prepared to swoop in and save the day, Batshuayi revealed he was told only to bring the sort of virtues that single him out from the crowd: “To protect… fight, and show good spirit.”
He added, “I I did my job for the team. That’s it. Today was good, coming on the pitch and do my job.”
It was all in a day’s work for Chelsea’s unlikely hero.