Chelsea have travelled a long way to Azerbaijan for their Group C encounter against FK Qarabag in the UEFA Champions League.
FK Qarabag are a relatively unknown unit but have impressed with their tenacity, especially at home. A couple of draws against Atletico Madrid and a close result at home against Roma show that the club has more to offer in European competitions than what seemed to be the case to begin with.
Chelsea, on the other hand, are in with a great chance to go top of the group, with Roma facing a tricky away tie against Atletico Madrid. Antonio Conte will hope to avoid bigger opposition by topping the table and Wednesday’s trip to Azerbaijan will provide a brilliant opportunity for the same.
With a lot hanging in the balance and a top place up for grabs, we take a closer look at the fixture.
Team News & Tactics
One of the standout stars of their European campaign so far has been goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic, whose displays have been instrumental in the two draws against Atletico Madrid. The custodian was sent off during the weekend but the suspension won’t affect his availability in the UEFA Champions League.
Tarik Elyounoussi and Badavi Huseynov are out for the game, but there is some positive news for the Azerbaijan outfit. Dino Ndlovu returns from his suspension and is likely to be thrust straight into the starting lineup while Mahir Madatov could also be fit enough to make his return from injury on Wednesday.
Qarabag have been encouraging in their style of play despite being underdogs in each and every group fixture thus far. Gurban Gurbanov believes his side can play their usual brand of football and still put up a great fight against higher-profile teams and the same philosophy is likely to continue against Chelsea.
Probable Lineup (4-1-4-1): Sehic; Medvedev, Rzezniczak, Sadiqov, Agolli; Qarayev; Henrique, Michel, Almeida, Madatov; Ndlovu
The Blues trained in Baku this morning ahead of tomorrow’s game against Qarabag! ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/Sm1OuIF1FO
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) November 21, 2017
Michy Batshuayi is the only player on the injury table, which means Alvaro Morata is an automatic choice upfront. Victor Moses is a doubt for the game and even if the player is available, we could see Conte stick to Cesar Azpilicueta on the right while summer signing Davide Zappacosta could be given a chance to impress.
Conte should go in with a full-strength starting lineup at other areas of the squad, with the Blues having the perfect opportunity of moving to the top of the table. The Blues will look to push on from the early onset of the game to drive home their advantage in terms of quality of personnel.
David Luiz should be reinstated in the lineup after being left out of the squad against Manchester United and being on the bench for the match against West Bromwich Albion the gameweek after. However, given the disciplinarian that Conte is, we could see him give a chance to Andreas Christensen in Luiz’s stead.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Courtois; Rudiger, Christensen, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Kante, Fabregas, Bakayoko, Zappacosta; Morata, Hazard
1. Hot Heads? – Qarabag have had a player sent off in four of the last six matches.
2. FK Qarabag are yet to record a win in the UEFA Champions League.
Player to Watch
The Chelsea frontman looked lively against West Brom and was instrumental against Manchester United. The Spaniard seems to have struck a good partnership with Hazard upfront and with Conte referring to the players as the two strikers, we could be seeing more of the duo being in tandem.
Wednesday presents another opportunity for them to flex their muscle, more so for Morata, who will look to keep his green run going.
FK Qarabag 0-1 Chelsea
Chelsea ran over their hosts on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge. But, the Blues will have it tougher in Azerbaijan, with the travelling hours set to make a sizeable difference. Qarabag have given a good account of themselves in recent matchups and will be looking to keep the good work up against Chelsea.
The Blues though, will love to get a hold of the top spot, provided Roma fail to win at Atletico Madrid, and Conte is likely to see his team edge the home side. The scoreline should not be as lopsided as their previous matchup, but Chelsea should emerge as the winners in the end.