Stamford Bridge celebrated a thumping return to Champions League football on Tuesday night as Chelsea put six past newcomers Qarabag.
Despite Conte’s decision to rest a selection of first team players on the Blues’ first outing since missing out on the competition last year, there were few worries for goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. In fact, it was Chelsea’s defensive half that stole the show with Davide Zappacosta, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesar Azpilicueta all chipping in with goals.
Pedro got the game up and running almost immediately as he combined with the always excellent Willian to curl home stylishly from 20 yards. The visitors never looked like posing any real threat to the Premier League champions as they asserted full control on the game, controlling possession and dictating their own tempo.
Italian full-back Zappacosta made a name for himself during his full debut, powerfully driving down the right wing and providing a second before the break from a cross that beat Ibrahim Sehic. The second half didn’t get any easier for the first Azerbaijan side to qualify for the Champions League group stages and it could be a long road to travel in a tough Group C that contains Roma and Atletico Madrid.
Ten minutes after the break, Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas flighted a ball for compatriot Azpilicueta to head home a third. Conte insisted his side continue to press with the result already secure, with Willian looking to get in on the action but only finding the crossbar.
More action followed, with Bakayoko forcing a shot into the net via a close range deflection before Michu Batshuayi grabbed a brace. The 23-year-old striker took on a pass from Bakayoko in space a finished from range before bundling home Zappacosta’s cross.
The crushing victory was more than enough to put Chelsea in early control of the group with Atletico slogging out a 0-0 score in Rome.
Ready for tougher tests
Conte will be delighted with this result, having been able to rest important players including Alvaro Morata and Victor Moses. Another pleasing boost was the reintroduction of Gary Cahill, who returned from a three-match ban and Eden Hazard found himself 30 minutes for the first time this season following an ankle injury.
The debut from low-key signing 25-year-old Zappacosta has got to be the biggest win of the night and regular full back Moses will have cause for concern.
“Never mind Diego Costa, how about Davide Zappacosta!?!”
The Chelsea full-back marks his debut with a great run and strike ? pic.twitter.com/n8ScbQSlMN
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) September 12, 2017
This was always going to be Chelsea’s easiest match in Group C – an armchair-ride opener at home to Champions League debutants. It may not be so straightforward from now on; there will be little-to-no respite as Atletico and Roma sit on the horizon.
First, though, they must switch their minds to hosting London rivals Arsenal on Sunday.
Header image: “Champions League Ball” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by prakash_ut