Chelsea`s 4-0 Qarabag Hit And Run
Antonio Conte rotated his squad as expected for the trip to Azerbaijan. Rested ahead of the Liverpool fixture were Andreas Christensen, Gary Cahill, Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko. Conte reverted to his trusted 3-4-3 formation bringing in Antonio Rudiger, David Luiz, Pedro and Willian.
With Michy Batshuayi out injured, the Italian opted to play Eden Hazard in a false nine role. It worked to good effect last season, when Diego Costa was missing, and with Pedro and Willian alongside the Belgian, it looked to be an attacking line-up.
The Olympic Stadium in Baku was looking impressive as the game kicked off, the Azerbaijanis were well-up for the game. As such, Qarabag made a positive start with the first fifteen minutes fairly even in terms of possession. The best chance fell to Qarabag when a scooped effort by Michel bounced off the crossbar. That coming from a fast attack that breached Chelsea`s defence with worrying ease.
Despite a poor start to his season, Willian was looking lively with one of two efforts on goal. In fact Willian brought about Chelsea`s first goal of the evening. It was another run into the penalty area by the Brazilian that resulted in the referee awarding Chelsea a penalty.
Willian was bundled over by the Qarabag captain Sadygov, who was somewhat harshly sent off. In this competition though, Chelsea have had more than their fair share of harsh decisions, so we`ll gladly take that one. After a lot of arguing by the Qarabag team, attempting to put Hazard off, he remained the calmest man on the pitch sending the keeper to his right before rolling the ball into the net on his left.
With a man down, the game was all but over for the Azerbaijani side. A beautiful flowing move by Chelsea was finished off by Willian, following a deft back heel into his path, inside the box by Hazard. It was pure synchronicity, once again, by the Chelsea attack.
That really was it for Qarabag. Pedro went off on a mazy run from inside his own half, rode one attempt to take him down, and nearly managed to stay on his feet after the second. The ref rightly pulled play back, however Willian`s free-kick just missed the outside of the post. Chelsea went into the break holding their comfortable 2-0 lead.
Understandably the second half started relatively slowly, for Chelsea the work was all but done, for Qarabag it was a case of keeping the scoreline respectable. With Liverpool in mind, Conte made his first substitution with 57 minutes gone, Gary Cahill replacing Marcos Alonso. Cahill took up his familiar position on the left side of defence with Cesar Azpilicueta switching to left wing-back.
The next to be replaced was Hazard, who was relieved of his false nine duties with 64 minutes gone, he was replaced by Alvaro Morata. It wasn`t long before Morata had the ball in the net, but the goal chalked off when Azpilicueta was flagged offside.
Chelsea were awarded another penalty on 70 minutes, once again for a foul on Willian. With no Hazard Cesc Fabregas stepped up and scored, after having to re-take the original spot kick.
With 15 minutes remaining Danny Drinkwater was the final substitute, replacing his old partner N`golo Kante. As the game effectively petered out into a Chelsea victory, Pedro set Willian on his way for the final goal of the game. The Brazilian burst into space a fired off an unstoppable shot on goal to give Chelsea a 4-0 advantage.
Chelsea were not content to sit back though, Cesc Fabregas produced a flying save from Sehic in the Qarabag goal well into injury time. With that the game was done. Chelsea ran out winners 4-0.
From Chelsea`s point of view, Antonio Conte made the best of what really was a bad job, in terms of fixture congestion. Once again the Italian swapped his formation to suit the games needs and came out on top. From Willian`s point of view that two penalty`s won and two goals scored.
That`s three straight wins in all competitions and three clean sheets to boot. All that following a 3-0 defeat in Rome, sound familiar anyone? Chelsea have now qualified for the knockout stage and the last sixteen of the competition. Bring on the big boys. The priority for Chelsea now though is to get straight off to the airport and back to the UK ASAP as they look to prepare for the Liverpool game on Saturday evening.
All in all that could have been a tricky tie but Chelsea dealt with it comfortably and professionally. I don`t think, there can be any doubt that the team and manager are firmly back on track.