Chelsea v Qarabag

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Eden Hazard has played twice for Belgium and once for Chelsea this season

Eden Hazard will be on Chelsea’s bench for their Champions League return against Azerbaijani side Qarabag, as boss Antonio Conte considers changes.

The Premier League champions did not compete in any European competition last season.

Hazard has not started for the Blues this season because of an ankle injury.

Chelsea play seven games in 21 days this month, and Conte said: “You have to do some rotation otherwise the last two games you have no energy.”

Midfielder Danny Drinkwater, who is yet to make his debut following a deadline-day move from Leicester, will miss the game with a calf injury. He is the only absentee.

Captain Gary Cahill could play for Chelsea for the first time in a month, following a three-match domestic ban.

Conte said: “We are ready and we need to rotate the players of my squad.

“We are starting a path and to build something important. You need to grow step by step to be like Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. You don’t create a big, strong team easily.”

On Hazard, who played the last 12 minutes of Saturday’s 2-1 win at Leicester, Conte said: “He is in the squad and is working hard to find the best physical condition.

“He needs a bit of time to continue to improve and we must not take stupid risks with him. He will be on the bench. He is an amazing player – we are looking forward to having him in our squad.”

Qarabag, who have won their opening three league games and came through three rounds of European qualifying, are the first Azerbaijani team to reach the Champions League group stages.

Conte said: “Qarabag are a good team. It is the first time they play in this Champions League. I know some of the players well as we played against Azerbaijan when I was Italy coach.”

MATCH FACTS

  • This is the first competitive encounter between the sides. 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 winning both games (3-1 at home, 1-0 in Baku).
  • This is Chelsea’s 15th Champions League campaign, the third most for an English club after Manchester United (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.
  • The Blues have lost only one of their past 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.
  • Eden Hazard has scored only one goal in his past 12 Champions League games, 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 and RB Leipzig are the only teams to make their Champions League debut this season. They are also the first team from Azerbaijan to reach the group stages of the competition.
  • 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).
  • Qarabag striker Dino Ndlovu scored four goals in six games in this season’s Champions League qualifiers.


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