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FK Qarabag vs Chelsea Preview: Blues Looking to Secure Champions League Progress

European football is back on the agenda for Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, who make their longest-ever Champions League away trip as they head to Azerbaijan to face FK Qarabag. The home side have adapted to life in Europe’s premier club competition well after a difficult start. The Blues sit second in Group C, one point behind group leaders Roma and can secure their qualification for the knockout stages if with a win – provided other results go their way.

Crystal Palace vs Chelsea Preview – Blues Looking to Put Eagles to the Sword

Chelsea travel across London later looking to inflict yet more misery on lowly Crystal Palace and get their season back on track. The Blues struggled to cope with Manchester City’s all-action approach last time out, and with injuries to N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata, Antonio Conte will have to introduce some of his squad players against Roy Hodgson’s men.

N’Golo Kante Hamstring Problem Adds to Chelsea’s Injury Woes

Fresh from his maiden Ballon d’Or nomination, N’Golo Kante has suffered a hamstring injury on international duty with France, leaving Antonio Conte desperately searching for positives.

At first glance, the international break couldn’t have come at a better time for Chelsea, with the Blues still reeling from being completely outplayed in the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City. Record signing Alvaro Morata limped off in the first half of the loss with what has been confirmed as a month-long hamstring injury, with Kante’s issue heightening the ill-feeling around the Bridge even further this week.

Early season beset with injuries

For much of last season, Chelsea were blessed by a lack of injuries within the squad, a situation that allowed Conte to retain a familiar side on a weekly basis in the Premier League. This term, however, has posed different problems, with Eden Hazard missing the first month of the new campaign through an ankle injury and new signing Danny Drinkwater yet to be fit enough to feature for his new employers.

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The squad’s relatively clean bill of health was cited by most observers as a major factor in the Blues winning the title last term, along with the absence of any European football. Indeed, having a larger fixture list already looks to be taking its toll on the squad this term.

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Kante didn’t feature in the 5-1 demolition of Nottingham Forest but has still played 12 games in 56 days – a greatly increased workload on last season – and his all-action approach looks to have got the better of him momentarily. Morata’s injury is similar in nature and the Blues medical staff will be sincerely hoping that the increased amount of injuries is nothing to do with the training methods used by the staff at Cobham.

Irreplaceable talent?

Morata and Kante have been the two star performers for Chelsea already this season and replacing both of them would be a huge challenge for Conte. Injuries are inevitable and squads are built to fight on four fronts – which is something Chelsea are looking to do this campaign.

During his time in the Premier League, Antonio Conte has shown himself to be an innovative coach that can deal with the ever-changing environment of English football. Whilst he and the Chelsea faithful will be praying Kante and Morata’s injuries are not as serious as they first appear, finding a tactical answer to the problem could be the Italian’s biggest test to date at Stamford Bridge.

Header image by @cfcunofficial (Chelsea Debs) (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Chelsea Star Makes Ballon d’Or 2017 Shortlist

As Chelsea cantered to the Premier League title last season, one man grabbed all the headlines for his incredible performances: N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman won the PFA Players Player of the Year, the Football Writers’ Player of the Season and picked up his second Premier League medal in as many seasons, after winning the title with Leicester City in 2015-16.

Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea Preview – Blues Must Be at Their Best to Stay Top

Chelsea travel to Madrid to take on Champions League specialists Atletico Madrid in what promises to be a fascinating encounter later this evening. The Blues sit two points clear at the top of Group C but will be fully aware of the defensive capabilities of Diego Simeone’s men and will have to be at their best to break them down.

The atmosphere at the Wanda Metropolitano promises to be electric, in Atletico’s first Champions League game in their new home.

Formation

Antonio Conte will not budge from his 3-4-3 formation that has served him so well domestically, and implementing it against FK Qarabag on match day one saw the Blues pick up a comprehensive 6-0 victory. With Atletico Madrid being notoriously difficult to break down, Conte will be hoping his creative influences within the team can pose sufficient problems for the Atletico defence.

Team Selection

Thibaut Courtois returns to the club that accommodated him on loan with his place as the Blues number 1 firmly cemented.

Andreas Christensen has been one of the star performers for the Blues this term and could flank the returning David Luiz and in-form Cesar Azpilicueta in the heart of Chelsea’s defence, with Gary Cahill set to miss out.

Marcos Alonso struggled at Stoke on Saturday but doesn’t seem to have much competition at left wing-back whilst the right-wing back debate continues with Victor Moses seemingly in pole position to start in the Spanish capital – despite Davide Zappacosta’s instant impact.

Integral to Chelsea’s success will be the stability in midfield, which N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko will need to provide to nullify the threats of Antoine Griezmann and company.

Creative opportunities against the notoriously resolute Atletico could be few and far between so Conte will be looking to Eden Hazard, Pedro and Saturday’s hat-trick hero, Alvaro Morata, to provide the firepower in what promises to be a game of few chances.

Predicted Starting XI

Courtois (GK)
Moses
Christensen
Luiz (c)
Azpilicueta
Alonso
Kante
Bakayoko
Hazard
Pedro
Morata

Where the Game Will Be Won or Lost

In front of their adoring home support, Atletico are one of the most difficult teams to encounter in European football. Their clinical forward players, coupled with stern defence, make it a daunting task for Europe’s elite and they have reached the final of the competition twice in the last four years. As always, N’Golo Kante will have to protect Chelsea’s back four in his usual combative style and it promises to be a big test for Tiemoue Bakayoko – although he demonstrated his capabilities in Monaco’s run to the Champions League semi-finals last season.

Match Prediction

Chelsea will be desperate to leave Madrid in their toughest-looking match of the group whilst Atletico will be eager to make up for the two points they dropped at Roma on match day one. With defence being the order of the day, these two European heavyweights could well cancel each other out.

1-1 Draw

Header image: “Champions League Ball” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by prakash_ut