September 11, 2017

Chelsea v. Qarabag Preview  (Sky Sports)

Eden HazardEden Hazard will be on the bench for Chelsea as they open their Champions League campaign against Qarabag on Tuesday.

Antonio Conte's side are returning to the competition after a one-year absence and begin the group stage at home to the Azeri champions, who are making their tournament debut.

Hazard underwent ankle surgery during the summer and made his first club appearance of the season as a substitute in the 2-1 win at Leicester, having featured from the bench in both of Belgium's recent World Cup qualifying matches.

Conte plans to manage his return to fitness with Sunday's visit of Arsenal - live on Sky Sports Premier League - on the horizon, followed by a midweek Carabao Cup tie against Nottingham Forest.

It's part of a busy run of fixtures that sees Chelsea play seven games in September and Conte admits rotation will be required to keep his team fresh.

"Eden Hazard is in the group and he's working very well to find the best physical condition, but I think he needs a bit of time to continue to improve and to avoid taking a stupid risk," Conte said.

"You are never relaxed in England, because you have to play a tough league and also FA Cup and also Carabao Cup.

"Now we are starting to play the Champions League. To play 60, 65 games it's normal, but it's not easy. In my past sometimes before a Champions League game you rested. In England it's not easy to do this.

"When you make the decision (on selection) there is always the risk. The risk could be to play with the same players as against Leicester and then after the game, 'Why didn't you change the team that was tired?'

"You know very well if you win you've made the best decision, if you lose you've made the worst decision. I must be realistic, I must be calm, to make the best decision for these seven games.

"It's normal when you have to play seven games in 21 days to rotate my players. I'm very calm about this because I trust my players."

Team news

Danny Drinkwater will miss Chelsea's Champions League return with a calf problem.

The midfielder picked up the injury in training on Sunday, but Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte otherwise has a fully fit squad to choose from and hinted he will rotate his players.

Defender and club captain Gary Cahill is back in contention after a three-game domestic ban.

Opta stats

This is the first ever competitive encounter between Chelsea and Qarabag. In fact, the only previous meeting between English and Azerbaijani sides saw Tottenham face Qarabag in the 2015/16 Europa League group stages; the North London team won both games (3-1 at home, 1-0 in Baku).

This is Chelsea's 15th Champions League participation, the third most for an English club after Manchester Utd (21) and Arsenal (19). They are also the last English club to win the competition (2012).

Chelsea have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League 13 times in their previous 14 appearances.

Chelsea have lost only one of their last 13 Champions League group games (W9 D3), away against Porto in September 2015 (1-2). The Blues have also scored in each of their last 24 group games at Stamford Bridge.

Qarabag are the only team, alongside RB Leipzig, to make their Champions League debut this season. They are also the first team from Azerbaijan to reach the group stages of the competition.

Qarabag went through three rounds of qualifying to reach the group stages, knocking out Samtredia, Sheriff Tiraspol and Copenhagen.

No Azerbaijani side has ever reached the knockout stages in Europe. In fact, Qarabag have won only four of their 18 games in the group stages of a European competition (D5 L9).

Last season saw Qarabag win the Azerbaijani league for the fourth consecutive time, a record.

Eden Hazard has scored only one goal in his last 12 Champions League games, it was from the penalty spot.

This is Antonio Conte's third Champions League campaign as manager. His best performance was in 2012/13 when he reached the quarter-finals with Juventus.

Qarabag striker Dino Ndlovu scored four goals in six games in this season's Champions League qualifiers.

It's also Gurban Gurbanov's first Champions League campaign as manager.

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