After 6-0 rout of Qarabag, Conte says Chelsea 'perfect' in victorious return to the Champions League
Head coach Antonio Conte lauded a “perfect” Champions League return for Chelsea after Tuesday night’s 6-0 Group C rout of Azerbaijan’s Qarabag.
Goals from Pedro, Davide Zappacosta, Cesar Azpilicueta, substitute Tiemoue Bakayoko and Michy Batshuayi ensured a comfortable return to Europe’s elite after last season’s first absence since 2003-04. The sixth was bundled in by a combination of Batshuayi and defender Maksim Medvedev.
“It was a good start, a perfect start for us,” Conte said. “To play the first game [of the] Champions League, then to win with a good result, to score many goals, to finish the game with a clean sheet. I saw a lot of positive things tonight.
“Now we have to continue, we have to rest tomorrow and then to start to think about the next game, a strong game, a tough game against Arsenal [on Sunday].”
Sterner tests await in the competition. Chelsea next play Atletico Madrid with the saga surrounding Diego Costa rumbling on, before home and away clashes with Roma. It is those games which will determine the Blues’ progress or otherwise.
Zappacosta’s 30th-minute strike was the highlight on Tuesday night at Stamford Bridge.
The Italian, signed on deadline day from Torino and making his Champions League debut, struck from wide on the right. It appeared to be an attempted cross which, for him and Chelsea, was wonderfully miscued.
Conte said: “He has said that he wanted to cross. [But] he scored and it’s important for us.”
The Chelsea faithful sang “Zappacosta — he scores when he wants,” as the right wing-back moved halfway towards Costa’s Champions League tally for Chelsea.
Chelsea did not respond to questions on the absent Brazil-born Spain striker, who has two goals in 15 appearances in the competition for the Blues and is now almost forgotten.
Fractious relations with Costa, and the Premier League opening loss to Burnley, led some to suggest a crisis at Chelsea. A month on and Conte’s side have four successive wins.
Conte rotated his options for the second of seven games in September.
He added: “To play in the Champions League it means the coach trusts you. My message tonight was this: I trust all my players, not with only words, but with facts.
“If we think like last season to play with only 13 players we are crazy.
“We have to improve all these players to try and create a good competition, a positive competition, between them. It’s very important.”
Eden Hazard made his second substitute appearance for Chelsea of the season after his broken ankle, but Conte said it was too soon to say whether the Belgium playmaker would start on Sunday against Arsenal.
Conte added: “We must have a bit of patience with him and to try to give the possibility for Eden to recover very well.
“We must be calm and to do the best for the player and for the team. Otherwise we risk a bad injury to delay the situation. This is the right way. This process is good for him.”
Qarabag beat the champions of Georgia, Moldova and Denmark to become the first Azerbaijan side to reach the Champions League group stages.
The English champions proved a different proposition.
Qarabag boss Gurban Gurbanov said: “The game was very difficult for us. Chelsea played very good. Chelsea is a favourite for the tournament.
“We made lots of errors and I accept we must play even better. But I am satisfied with the way we played.”