Chelsea return to the Champions League this week, with Qarabag the visitors to Stamford Bridge. Can the Blues kick off their return to Europe with a victory? Having steadied the ship after an awful start to the season, the Blues will be hopeful of a strong season in Europe, although they don’t exactly have the squad depth to compete across all four fronts. After a season absence at this level, Antonio Conte has to be focused on getting the champions off and running in Europe, especially given that the Italian badly needs some success on the continent this term.
Conte’s time at Juventus saw them win three league titles after the club had dropped to mid-table before he arrived. While they dominated in Italy, they struggled for results in the Champions League. The season after the manager departed, Juve reached the Champions League final under Max Allegri. He’s taken Juve to the final twice since 2015, so Conte needs to prove himself among Europe’s elite this season. Kicking off with a game at home to Qarabag seems to be the perfect chance for Conte and co to get a win on the board, with much tougher challenges coming in this really tricky group.
Team News: Rotation possible with heavy schedule looming
Ahead of the transfer deadline, Antonio Conte warned of the dangers lurking within Chelsea’s schedule. They have seven games in three weeks of September, so there’s going to be need for some rotation. While the EFL Cup clash with Nottingham Forest is a prime contender for that, this game is also a chance for Conte to make a few changes. He could rest a couple here, with Eden Hazard likely to need a break after returning to the side at the weekend after a long layoff. Given the level of Chelsea’s coming opponents, we can see a weakened team taking the field here, with a changed side surely still good enough to take the points at home to Qarabag.
With new signings Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta on board to help with squad depth, both could feature here. The pair have international experience, and should be able to step up to this competition after their deadline day moves. Michy Batshuayi is another who could feature, after making a few appearances since the start of the season. Alvaro Morata won’t be able to feature across all of the Blues’ games this month, so we’re expecting a change up top from Conte.
Azerbaijani side Qarabag are made up with a real mesh of nationalities alongside a few homegrown players. They tend to line up in a 4-3-3 formation on Europe, but they could change that ahead of one of the biggest clashes in their history, if not the biggest. Taking on Chelsea is a huge leap for the visitors, and they might make a few sacrifices up front in order to try and keep things tight here.
While Chelsea’s campaign is only just getting underway, this is the furthest Qarabag have ever made it in this competition. They managed to knock out Copenhagen in the last round, becoming the first ever Azerbaijani side to make it to the group stage of the Champions League. That’s a massive landmark in itself, but how will they fare in their opener?
The visitors have managed to win their opening three games domestically, so it’s been a strong start overall from Qarabag. They’ll be out to make an impression in this competition, but they have a tough task after the draw. Their form may be impressive so far, but it doesn’t suggest they can take a result from Chelsea, Atletico Madrid or Roma in this group.
Chelsea recent Champions League results
With no head to head record to go through, we’ve cast an eye back over Chelsea’s recent European results. The last Champions League game at Stamford Bridge was a 2-1 defeat to PSG in 2016, and that’s a result the Premier League champions will want to reverse. Their 4-0 win over Maccabi is more in line with what we expect here, with the hosts heavy favourites for the points.
- Chelsea 1-2 PSG, Mar 2016
- PSG 2-1 Chelsea, Feb 2016
- Chelsea 2-0 Porto, Dec 2015
- Maccabi Tel Aviv 0-4 Chelsea, Nov 2015
- Chelsea 2-1 Dynamo Kyiv, Nov 2015
- Chelsea to win to nil – 3/5 with BetVictor
- Chelsea with a -2 handicap – 11/10 with Betfair
Chelsea will be glad to have a straightforward return to Europe, as they’re 1/10 with Coral to take the points in this game. You can get odds of 8/1 with Betfred on the draw here, while Qarabag are 20/1 with Bet365 to get the victory and cause a massive shock. While the Blues lost to Burnley in their first home league game of the season, we can’t see them suffering an even bigger collapse in this game. They should live up to their pre-match odds.
Given Chelsea’s price, we think seeking something a little longer is prudent and the hosts are well priced to win this game to nil. They’re 3/5 with BetVictor to win and keep a clean sheet, and we’ve already said that we see the away side playing defensively here. We don’t expect Qarabag to come out on the attack, and Chelsea should easily deal with any threats they do face. A home win to nil does seems like great value given the gulf between the pair, so it’s our first tip here.
With such a gulf in class between these two sides, we can see a big win for the Blues this week. They should be out to send a message on their return to the big time, and playing a side with little European experience should help the Premier League champions race to a big victory. We’re backing Chelsea with a -2 goal handicap, at 11/10 with Betfair.