Chelsea can book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League should they beat Qarabag on Wednesday. In what was on paper, one of the toughest and most competitive groups, qualifying with one game to spare would be a fantastic achievement for the Premier League champions.
Antonio Conte’s men travel to Azerbaijan, to face a side they comprehensively beat 6-0 in the opening round of this year’s fixtures, back in September.
Goals from, Pedro, Davide Zappacosta, Cesar Azpilicueta, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Michy Batshuayi, and an own goal from Qarabag defender Maksim Medvedev saw the Blues’ cruise to victory over the Champions League debutants, in what is the second highest win of this year’s competition, only behind Liverpool’s 7-0 rout of Maribor in Slovenia last month.
Following their encounter at Stamford Bridge, it was assumed that the Azerbaijani champions would partake the role of group whipping boys, given their inexperience at such a level, and the somewhat unusual nature of their domestic league which contains only eight sides, however this has not been the case.
Atletico Madrid have twice been held by Qarabag, 0-0 and 1-1, despite the competition newcomers having a man sent off in both games, and a gutsy performance at home to A.S. Roma saw them fall only to a 2-1 defeat, in what was a surprisingly close match, following the Italian giants early brace of goals.
Results that have left them only one point behind Atletico, and with an outside chance of Europa League qualification, in what would be an incredible achievement, given the quality of their three opponents in Group C.
Chelsea are currently in second place, behind only Roma by one point, but significantly three points ahead of Atletico. After breezing past tomorrows opponents, a superb 2-1 victory in Spain, was followed by a highly entertaining 3-3 draw with Roma at Stamford Bridge, which had put Chelsea in the box seat heading into the reverse round of fixtures.
However, a below par performance in Rome last month, saw the Blues to a 3-0 defeat, which prompted Antonio Conte to call out a rare lack of desire and effort within his team’s display.
Defender David Luiz has not played any minutes since the defeat in Rome, but will be hoping for some participation after returning to the squad on Saturday for their 4-0 defeat of West Bromwich Albion. The game is likely to come too soon for Victor Moses, who is still suffering with a hamstring injury, and striker Michy Batshuayi will certainly miss the trip to Baku.
Qarabag welcome back South African striker Dino Ndlovu, who was one of the previously referenced players to receive a red card against Atletico Madrid in their penultimate meeting, but will have to make do without winger Pedro Henrique who will serve his one match suspension following a dismissal in Spain.
Understandably Chelsea are strong favourites for the game. Qarabag can be found at 10/1 to take all three points, in what looks likely to be a reactionary performance from Antionio Conte’s men, post the debacle in Rome.
With the added incentive of guaranteed qualification, without the stress of a potential winner takes all contest against Atletico in their final group game, despite Qarabag’s expected resilience, the Blues really should be taking maximum points from this game, where their quality and dominating possession will most likely be enough to see them to a relatively comfortable victory.
Score Prediction – Qarabag 0 vs Chelsea 2