CHELSEA boss Carlo Ancelotti backed Daniel Sturridge to fill the void left by Didier Drogba after the teenager's brace helped the FA Cup holders set up a fourth-round tie with Preston.
Sturridge scored in each half to press his claims for a place while Drogba, who has scored 19 goals this season, is on Africa Cup of Nations duty this month.
After Sturridge's opener, a John Eustace own goal and further strikes from Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard wrapped up the win before the youngster grabbed his second.
And with fellow striker Nicolas Anelka sidelined by a hamstring strain, Ancelotti is ready to put his faith in the 20-year-old.
"It was a good performance and Sturridge played well. Without Drogba, it's important to have him in good condition," said the Italian.
"He scored two goals and that's important for a striker, to score. But he deserved that. He played very well for the whole match.
"This performance was very important for him. It'll improve his confidence. He has a lot of potential and great quality, and he can show that on the pitch in January."
Sturridge opened the floodgates for the home side, stabbing home a John Terry volley from close range after five minutes – his first goal for the club since his summer move from Manchester City.
An unlucky Eustace then doubled Chelsea's lead when he inadvertently deflected in Joe Cole's cross-shot. And Watford were 3-0 down after 22 minutes after Yuri Zhirkov's effort went in off Malouda.
Lampard sealed the win with an unstoppable 25-yard strike to cap a magnificent personal performance. And Sturridge made it five four minutes later, controlling neatly before slotting home.