Chelsea head to Azerbaijan to face Qarabag on Wednesday evening.
In the reverse fixture, our opening match in this season’s champions league, we recorded a resounding 6-0 win. The away match should prove a tougher prospect though. Qarabag have already held Atletico Madrid to a 0-0 draw there, playing the last fifteen minutes with ten men as well. Their other home match also saw them hold their own against Roma, losing 1-2 on the night in a tight contest. The two points they have on the board courtesy of two draws with Atletico gives them a mathematical, all be it outside chance of making the knockout stages. They would require two wins from their last two matches, as well as Roma beating Atletico tomorrow night, and then the Spaniards defeating us as well. They certainly have a very real chance of making the Europa league with a third place group finish, a position they currently hold. So either way they will be going all out for a win against us.
While the home win was comfortable against them, they are likely to be a different proposition at home. Sitting off us, particularly in midfield was their undoing at Stamford Bridge, but in there current position in the group, they wont be doing that as they are likely to put us under a lot more pressure here.
Our route to the knockout stages is slightly simpler than that of our opponents. Three points are all we require to progress, so a win against Qarabag or at home to Atletico on the last group stage match day will be enough. A point would be enough if Atletico fail to beat Roma, assuming we don’t lose worse than 6-0 to Qarabag. A draw against Qarabag would also put us through with a match to spare if Atletico cannot beat the Italians. The fight for top spot in the group will go down to the final round of fixtures whatever happens.
Having recovered from our defeat away at Crystal Palace with four league wins on the trot, our last champions league tie was the disappointingly convincing defeat away in Rome.
Having arguably got the tactics wrong there by ceding the extra man in midfield by opting to go for 3-4-3, our two matches following that defeat have seen Conte use 3-5-2. Qarabag are likely to match us up for shape assuming this is formation will be used again. Roma made excellent use of the spare man in midfield in defeating us as we failed to cover all avenues there, and to underestimate Qarabag should they play with a three man midfield could be dangerous, although perhaps wide areas could be exploited by the likes of Pedro and Willian were they to play with a back three. Rotation of playing staff could well be on Conte’s mind, particularly with an away match at Anfield on Saturday after this lengthy away trip. However, it perhaps would be better to get a result here to secure our position in the knock-out stages, then take players off in the second half if possible rather than making wholesale changes and facing the wrath of the media if we were to get turned over. Conte I am sure knows best and will have already planned out his approach with meticulous detail.
A last note here to remind everyone this is a 5pm kick off our time due to the time difference, so make sure you don’t miss it!