UEFA Champions League returns to Stamford Bridge after a one-year hiatus as Chelsea prepare to kick off their campaign against Qarabag in Group C.
Chelsea have steadied their start of the Premier League campaign with another win over the weekend. However, Antonio Conte will now turn his attention to European football – a challenge he did not have to face last time around and a challenge he is likely looking forward to.
The Blues face an unknown quantity of sorts, in the form of Azerbaijan club FK Qarabag, a side that surprisingly made it through the UEFA Champions League qualification phases, where they had a relatively easy run in, with FC Kobenhavn the toughest team in their path.
However, the Azerbaijan outfit will now look to prove their credentials in the group stage and a good performance away at Chelsea could be the way to kick off their European journey. The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the fixture.
Team News & Tactics
Chelsea have a clean bill of health, much to the delight of boss Antonio Conte. The most crucial aspect of the Blues’ present campaign will be how the Italian boss rotates his side to keep the players from getting overworked while also maintaining a strong squad in both domestic and European competitions.
Conte has already hinted at possible shuffles in the starting lineup by admitting that he will think of making changes to the squad ahead of Qarabag’s visit. Danny Drinkwater, though, is likely to have wait before making his Stamford Bridge debut.
The deadline-day arrival seems to have picked up a minor injury in the calf area during training and will mostly not be risked by the Italian manager, who is likely to name Eden Hazard on the bench again and probably give him some game time in the second half as a run in to gain match fitness.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Rudiger, David Luiz, Azpilicueta; Zappacosta, Bakayoko, Kante, Alonso; Pedro, Willian; Morata
Gurban Gurbanov, like his counterpart, has a clean bill of health going into the game. The Azerbaijan giants have started their domestic campaign on the right foot with 3 wins out of 3 and is likely to come into the game full of confidence.
It will be interesting to see if Gurbanov chooses to stick with the team that got the club to qualify into the group stage or whether he incorporates the new arrivals into the side. Pedro Henrique is the most prolific of the players to arrive, with the left winger arriving from PAOK on a loan deal.
Anton Kanibolotsky is likely to take up the position between the posts. The onus, though, will be on Dino Ndlovu, who has been scoring the important goals for the Azerbaijan outfit thus far.
Gurbanov knows well enough that their side are huge underdogs going into the game and is likely to set up his side accordingly.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Kanibolotsky; Medvedev, Rzezniczak, Guseynov, Agolli; Richard, Michel; Pedro Henrique, Quintana, Wilde-Donald Guerrier; Ndlovu
1. Qarabag are the first Azerbaijani side to make it to the group stage of the UEFA Champions League and are also one of the two debutantes this season in the competition, alongside RB Leipzig.
2. Chelsea have never faced Qarabag. Although, the Azerbaijani side has faced a North Londoner, going up against Tottenham in the 2015-16 Europa League group stage, losing both the games to Spurs.
3. Chelsea have failed to qualify for the knockout stages in only one of their 14 previous appearances in the competition.
4. Eden Hazard has a poor personal record in UCL, with no open goals in his last 12 Champions League matches.
5. Dino Ndlovu will be looking to add to his tally of European goals after the striker scored 4 in 6 UCL qualification games for Qarabag.
Player to Watch
Indeed, there are at least 11 other players who have a higher reputation than the South African striker. But, it is his form that needs to be looked at. The 27-year-old, as mentioned above, already has 4 goals and will be looking to add to his tally on Tuesday.
The player seems to have finally found his stride and has started the present campaign on a blistering note. And, if the Blues’ backline even so much as thinks of taking a breather or two during the game, we might just see the striker get a few chances to test Thibaut Courtois.
Chelsea 2-1 Qarabag
Chelsea are too strong for Qarabag and are likely to convert that on the pitch. The Blues are heavy favourites for the game on sports betting websites like Sun Bets, where you can place bets on multiple markets and in different sports.
However, the Azerbaijani side is an unknown quantity, which always poses a danger. Antonio Conte is likely to name a strong eleven and we should see the Blues kick their campaign off with a win.
But, Qarabag should spoil the home side’s plans of keeping a clean sheet. Expect Alvaro Morata to be on the scoresheet again and Dino Ndlovu to be the most threatening player for the visitors.