Chelsea Make the Long Trip to Baku

by - November 22, 2017

Now that we are clear of all international breaks til next March, the matches are coming in quick succession. Just a few days after a comfortable victory at West Brom, Chelsea make the long trip to Azerbaijan for their next Champions League group match.

Qarabag were originally from Agdam, a town in south western Azerbaijan. In 1993, the town was taken over by Armenian forces and the whole population fled. Ever since, the club have been based in the capital city, Baku.

This is the first time they have ever qualified for the group stage of the Champions League and in their opening match it showed. A 6-0 hammering at Stamford Bridge showed all the signs that they would be the whipping boys of the group. In their next group match they were quickly 2-0 at home to Roma and were facing another embarrassing result.

Zappacosta celebrating his goal against Qarabag at Stamford Bridge
However they quickly rallied, pulled a goal back and managed to not concede despite Roma clearly being the more skilful side and they received plenty of praise for the narrowness of their loss. They continued to improve and managed back to back draws at home and away to Atlético Madrid whilst still being outplayed but showing great determination and resolve. So despite their very dominant opening victory, Chelsea will be very wary of Qarabag’s improvement.

Antonio Conte will be fully aware of the double headache of what not winning would mean. The extra physical and mental effort of battling to a draw, or even defeat, in Baku, followed by needing a result in the final group match will be very unwanted during this busy spell. However a professional performance and a victory will guarantee qualification to the knockout stages and it would mean we can all rest far easier for the match at home to Atlético.

The tough decisions the manager will need to make all centre around the line up. The side will need to be capable of the victory whilst resting as much of his preferred line up for this weekend’s Premier League match. His squad have less than 72 hours in between their next 2 matches to travel the 2,500 miles back home before preparing for and heading up to Liverpool. A point that Conte himself highlighted to the media, but it was squarely aimed at the hierarchy of the Premier League.

After impressive victories over Manchester United and West Brom utilising a 3-5-2 in which The Blues have been in control for most of the matches we can expect the same formation. It’s likely that Luiz and Rudiger will get a start in defence, while Drinkwater could well replace either Bakayoko or Fabregas in midfield. Other changes to the starting XI are not so likely and will increase the risk of failing to win. Surely the intention would be to substitute at least Hazard and Morata after attaining a strong lead in the match.

It certainly has all the hallmarks of being and an interesting tie. There is plenty still unknown about the opposition, the effects of playing so far from home and the conditions, but under the guidance of Conte and with the amount of confidence and belief flowing through the squad, we should see The Blues returning with qualification achieved.

Written by Jon Ellis, Chelsea FC home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on twitter: @ClitheroeBlue

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