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.
Conte’s coined 3-5-1-1 worked a treat at West Bromwich Albion last time out as the Blues ran out 4-0 winners, a result that proved to be the final nail in Tony Pulis’ coffin at the Hawthorns. Built on defensive stability, the Blues have been able to shut down their opponents effectively in recent weeks whilst giving the freedom to the likes of Eden Hazard to flourish.
Antonio Conte spoke of his desire to rotate in advance of the game meaning his team selection could be a little unpredictable but one man who will feature is Thibaut Courtois. The Belgian number one has only kept one clean sheet in this season’s Champions League.
Victor Moses continues to miss out through injury, meaning Davide Zappacosta and Marcos Alonso will be required to provide attacking threats and defensive responsibility from wide areas.
David Luiz hasn’t featured in a Chelsea game since the 3-0 defeat to Roma on match day 4 and could miss out again with Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen set to marshal the centre of defence with Gary Cahill set to be rested.
Danny Drinkwater could be in line for his first Champions League start for the Blues following a string of substitute appearances and he looks set to partner Tiemoue Bakayoko in the engine room in midfield.
Eden Hazard has been influential in recent games for the blues in his favoured number ten role but he could drop a little deeper for this one – allowing Pedro to play in front of him – with both men tasked with providing the creativity to break down a potentially stubborn defence.
Alvaro Morata looks set to get the nod over Michy Batsuhayi and he looks in fine form, with the Spaniard scoring in his last two matches.
Predicted Starting XI
Chelsea have lacked consistency in this year’s Champions League and the rigours of playing twice a week look to have caught up with them at times. N’Golo Kante doesn’t look set to feature in Azerbaijan so the Blues will be relying on Bakayoko and Drinkwater to control the game from midfield. If they do, Chelsea should see plenty of the ball and, with Hazard and Morata in good form, should cause a wealth of problems for Qarabag.
Chelsea will be fully aware of the hostile atmosphere in Azerbaijan, coupled with the pressure of needing to win adding to the enormity of the game. Key players for the Blues have stepped up to the plate in recent weeks and provided they can perform in Azerbaijan, they should have no problems against FK Qarabag.
Prediction: FK Qarabag 0 – 2 Chelsea
Header image: “Champions League Ball” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by prakash_ut