Chelsea made a swaggering start to their Champions League challenge as memorable strikes from Pedro and Davide Zappacosta inspired a 6-0 rout of Qarabag on Tuesday.
Antonio Conte’s side were in businesslike mood against the minnows from Azerbaijan, with Pedro’s long-range effort putting them ahead early on at Stamford Bridge.
Zappacosta was making his home debut for Chelsea after his deadline day move from Torino and he marked the occasion with his first goal for the club, a cross-shot that capped a lung-bursting run from the Italy right-back. Cesar Azpilicueta, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Michy Batshuayi were all on the scoresheet in the second half to give Chelsea their joint biggest Champions League win.
“It was a good result. We started the Champions League in the right way,” Conte said. I saw great commitment, focus and concentration right from the start. It was a great performance from the players.”
Placed in a tricky group including Atletico Madrid and Roma, the English champions couldn’t afford to slip up against a team of Qarabag’s limited European pedigree. Conte took a gamble by making five changes from Saturday’s 2-1 win at Leicester City, resting David Luiz, Victor Moses, Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger and Alvaro Morata.
But Conte, whose switches were made with an eye on Sunday’s Premier League clash against Arsenal, had no need to worry as Chelsea laid seige to the Qarabag goal before taking the lead in the fifth minute.
Willian’s pass found Pedro unmarked on the edge of the penalty area and the Spain winger curled a fine first-time finish into the top corner. Qarabag were the first club from Azerbaijan to play in the Champions League, having emerged from the ashes of their war-torn region to become one of the tournament’s most unlikely success stories.
Chelsea had no intention of letting the minnows extend their romantic tale, pushing for a second goal that almost arrived when Willian forced Ibrahim Sehic to save. When Conte’s men doubled their lead in the 30th minute, it was laced with more than a slice of good fortune.
Qarabag at last had a shot when Pedro Henrique brought Thibaut Courtois into action .It was only a temporary respite and Chelsea put the result beyond doubt in the 55th minute.
Eden Hazard was cheered to the rafters when he came off the bench in the 57th minute, making just his second appearance for Chelsea this season after ankle surgery.
Willian hit the bar with a fierce strike and, with Qarabag growing more ragged by the minute, the hosts bagged their fourth in the 71st minute. Capitalising on slack Qarabag defending, French midfielder Bakayoko grabbed his first Chelsea goal, slotting home from Hazard’s cross.
United get off to winning start too
Substitute Marouane Fellaini proved an unlikely source of inspiration as Manchester United comfortably defeated Basel 3-0 on their return to the Champions League on Tuesday.
Fellaini, a replacement for the injured Paul Pogba, gave United a 35th-minute lead at a drizzly Old Trafford and teed up Marcus Rashford for the hosts’ third goal after Romelu Lukaku had struck early in the second period.
It was United’s first Champions League game since December 2015, with Jose Mourinho’s side having engineered a return to the competition by winning the Europa League last season.
“I keep saying the same about Fellaini: he is a player with special qualities and he gives me multiple areas of action. He is one of my most important players, Mourinho told BT Sport.
Despite the comfortable margin of victory, Mourinho rebuked his team for taking their foot off the pedal. “Until 2-0 we were very stable,” he said. “After 2-0 everything changed. We stopped playing seriously and stopped making the right decisions. We could have put ourselves in trouble We were playing fantasy football, PlayStation football. I don’t like it.”
- Chelsea 6 (Cesar Azpilicueta, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Michy Batshuayi x 2, Pedro, Davide Zappacosta) beat Qarabag 0
- Manchester United 3 (Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford) beat FC Basel 0