Conte wants no Qarabag slip-up

Chelsea's Alvaro Morata warming up before the Champions League game at Atletico Madrid on Sept 27, when he hit the equaliser to help his team to a dramatic 2-1 win. Morata's good form will be crucial for the Blues.
Chelsea's Alvaro Morata warming up before the Champions League game at Atletico Madrid on Sept 27, when he hit the equaliser to help his team to a dramatic 2-1 win. Morata's good form will be crucial for the Blues.PHOTO: REUTERS

Chelsea can seal Europe knockout spot with a win to reduce pressure of fixture logjam

BAKU • Chelsea must seal progression to the Champions League knockout stages with a crucial win over Qarabag tonight to help ease the pressure during a congested fixture schedule, manager Antonio Conte has said.

Premier League champions Chelsea are second in their Champions League group and trail group leaders Roma by a point after the Italian team embarrassed them 3-0 at the end of last month.

But a win in Azerbaijan - which is a gruelling five-and-a-half hours, 3,975km trip from London - will seal their spot in the next stage.

Conte has urged his side to get the job done and avoid the tension of battling for progression during a busy schedule that sees the Blues play 11 matches, after the Group C clash, before the end of the year.

"If we are able to win against Qarabag, we can go through to the next round of the Champions League and this is very important because this period from now until January is very busy," Conte said.

"It won't be easy because in the last two games, they drew twice against Atletico Madrid... it is very important to be focused, to work and to try to win the game."

Chelsea are due to return to London at 5am tomorrow. They are nine points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City in third position and travel to fifth-placed Liverpool on Saturday.

Conte removed Cesc Fabregas, N'Golo Kante and Eden Hazard, who scored twice, in the second half of his side's 4-0 win at West Bromwich Albion last Saturday in a bid to keep them fresh and will likely field a strong starting XI despite the upcoming trip to Anfield.

Conte said: "This season, we faced a lot of problems from the start and now we are trying to solve these problems, to recall players, to find the right form for players like Eden and... (Alvaro) Morata, who is playing his first season in England.

"Then Kante is recovering good form and we know very well the importance of these players for us."

New signing Morata, who scored at The Hawthorns and has been involved in 12 (eight goals, four assists) of Chelsea's 23 league goals, will be crucial for the packed run-in.

Conte added: "To see Eden in this form is very important for me. At West Brom, Eden and Morata showed a great link, but also with the ball we have another player who deserves great credit, Cesc.

"These players always show great desire and will to fight in every game. Against Roma, together we didn't show this - me first. I always put myself before the players and I always take the responsibility.

"In Rome, we didn't deserve to finish the first half 2-0 down, but the second half was negative because we didn't show the desire to come back to try to draw it or win."

REUTERS

QARABAG V CHELSEA

Singtel TV Ch112 & StarHub Ch212, tomorrow, 12.55am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2017, with the headline 'Conte wants no qarabag slip-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe