PMB: Qarabag v Chelsea - history and tactics

We complete our preview for the game with a glance at the past and a look ahead at tonight from club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton…



Chelsea have never played in Azerbaijan before this evening. Our only previous encounter with an Azeri side was against the same opposition in the opening match of the group stage in September.

The Blues, showing five changes by Antonio Conte from the previous line-up, were off to the perfect start against the group stage debutants. Pedro was unmarked at a corner and when Willian played the ball to him he picked his spot with ease.

Twenty-five minutes later Davide Zappacosta made it two with a dynamic run and swirling cross-shot from distance (pictured below), and after the break, Cesar Azpilicueta notched a rare header from Cesc Fabregas’s set-up. 

With 20 minutes to go, Tiemoue Bakayoko capitalised on indecisive defending at another corner – like Zappacosta’s, his first goal for the club – and minutes later Michy Batshuayi, starting ahead of Alvaro Morata, scored with a low drive.

Chelsea’s sixth, an own-goal by Maksim Medvedev from Zappacosta’s cross, meant the Londoners had equalled the club’s record victory in this competition, previously registered against Maribor.

Qarabag’s only previous visitors from the Premier League were Tottenham, two years ago this month in the 2015/16 Europa League group stage. Spurs followed up a 3-1 success at home with a narrow 1-0 win in Baku thanks to a Harry Kane goal. 



Chelsea’s biggest away win in the Champions League

20/10/1999        Galatasaray 0-5 Chelsea   First group stage

25/11/2014        Schalke 0-5 Chelsea        Group stage


Qarabag’s biggest home win in Europe

11/07/17            Qarabag 5-0 Samtredia  Champions League 2nd qualifying round 2nd leg





•            For the home encounter with Qarabag, Antonio Conte made five changes from the previous weekend’s starting line-up, with David Luiz, Victor Moses, Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata among those rested. However the Azeris are a stronger proposition at home and the Italian, who described this as the most important game of the season so far, may make fewer changes for the trip to Baku.

•            The short turnaround between games is also likely to influence the head coach’s selections, however. Morata will surely retain his place, as Michy Batshuayi is injured, while Moses’s return may come against Liverpool in three days’ time. The African Footballer of the Year nominee has not featured since limping off at Crystal Palace in mid-October. Less heavily used players may get the nod in one of the matches.

•            A feature of the new 3-5-2 formation, with Cesc Fabregas playing with two other central midfielders has been more goalscoring opportunities for the forceful Tiemoue Bakayako. Should that continue, the 23-year-old former Monaco man will surely improve on his current career record of seven goals in 115 Ligue 1, Premier League and Champions League matches.

•            As usual, the Azeri FA aided Gurban Gurbanov’s Champions League preparations by bringing their Premyer Liqa meeting forward to Friday afternoon. Qarabag beat Sumqayit 2-0 despite losing goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic to a red card after half an hour.

•            After opening their campaign with successive defeats, the Horsemen managed back-to-back draws against Atletico. They did so, despite sendings-off, by defending deep, being well-organised and combative. Their best performers have been forward Dino Ndlovu and goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic – ‘We had three one-on-ones,’ rued Diego Simeone after his team’s stalemate in Baku, ‘and couldn’t take them.’ 

•            Those who know Qarabag well were hugely impressed with the rapid improvement of Gurbanov’s team evident in the home game with the Mattressmakers: ‘Unlike their last home match, Qarabag approached this game in excellent mental state,’ commented ‘There was no trembling at the knees – or the two goals in the first 15 minutes that we saw against Roma.’

•            In our 6-0 victory at the Bridge, at half-time the visitors' coach switched from a 4-1-4-1 formation to 5-4-1 with additional cover on the flanks. The Azeris were being overrun, especially down the right with Willian and Davide Zappacosta. Up against Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko (who had replaced N’Golo Kante) in the centre, substitutions were made to allow three in their midfield.

•            Since Chelsea have recently been using a 3-5-2 formation with three central middlemen, Qarabag may well try to match those numbers from the outset. That said, Gurbanov stuck with the 4-1-4-1 at home to Atletico then used 4-5-1 away, achieving draws on both occasions.

•            Red cards in consecutive European games have caused headaches for Gurbanov. Hard-working forward Ndlovu is available again for this evening’s game, but their head coach must find a replacement for experienced Brazilian right-winger Pedro Henrique, who was their most composed and dangerous player in London, and one of their two goalscorers in this competition.






Michy Batshuayi (ankle)

Victor Moses (hamstring)

Charly Musonda (knee)

Kenedy (muscular problem)






Badavi Guseynov (ligament)


Tarik Elyounoussi (knee)

Mahir Madatov (foot)


Pedro Henrique