Chelsea secured their passage to the latter stages of the Champions League with a resounding 4-0 win in Azerbaijan. With Atletico Madrid beating Roma in the Group C’s other fixture, the Blues cashed in and can secure top spot in the group with a win over Atletico at Stamford Bridge on match day six.
David Luiz’s surprise inclusion in the starting lineup was perhaps as telling as Conte’s decision to bench Alvaro Morata – with the rotation the manager discussed not being as widespread as many imagined. N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard were given starting births with Conte clearly recognising the match as an opportunity to secure qualification if other results on the night went their way; which they did.
Crossbar denies hosts early
Chelsea controlled the ball in the opening exchanges but the first clear-cut chance of the match fell to the hosts, who engineered a smart move in the 13th minute, and, when the ball fell at the feet of former Birmingham midfielder Michel, the Qarabag fans looked set to be sent into euphoria but the Spaniard’s excellent strike cannoned off the crossbar in what proved to be a very costly miss.
A mere five minutes later, the whole landscape of the game had changed. Hazard’s clever through-ball was latched onto by the lively Willian, who was brought down in the box by Qarabag captain Sadiqov, who was shown a straight red card for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity. Eden Hazard was coolness personified in dispatching the penalty and the game was effectively killed as a contest from there on in.
Chelsea press home one-man advantage
With an extra man, the Blues were able to completely dominate the midfield battle and in the 36th minute, Willian and Hazard combined again to great effect. Willian rolled the ball into Hazard who ingeniously back-heeled the ball back to Willian and the Brazilian side-footed home with aplomb to the delight of the thousand or so travelling Chelsea fans.
The second half was a little stagnated, with both sides making changes. Cahill and Morata came on for Alonso and Hazard and in the 67th minute Morata was presented with a golden opportunity, but for once the Spaniard failed to deliver. Antonio Rudiger fed Morata on the half turn, who inexplicably dragged wide with just the goalkeeper to beat.
The onslaught continued, and in the 73rd minute, Qarabag over-played in their own penalty box, leading to Willian nipping in and having his shirt pulled – giving the referee no option but to award a second penalty. Cesc Fabregas smashed home twice – with his first strike being ruled out for encroachment in the penalty area – but the Spaniard remained unfazed as he slotted home to make absolutely sure of the three points.
Man of the match Willian added a gloss to the scoreline in the 85th minute as he picked up the ball 30 yards out, drove at goal unchallenged, before unleashing a powerful right-footed strike into the bottom corner to give him a brace on his 200th appearance for the Blues.
Just reward for Blues’ efforts
The 4-0 scoreline was no more than the Blues deserved and with other results going their way, Conte may be able to afford to rest a few players against Atletico on match day six.
Chelsea’s domestic picture starts to hot up – starting with a trip to Liverpool on Saturday afternoon whilst Qarabag will be playing for pride in their final Champions League Group C game – against Roma on Tuesday 5th December.