By, Ugo Nwogwugwu
Tonight’s The Night
Wednesday 22nd November, Baku Olympic Stadium – Despite the chilly evening weather in the Azerbaijani capital, the stadium was packed. Premyer Liqa champions FK Qarabag were hosting Chelsea FC on match day 5 of the 2017 Champions League season.
Qarabag were their country’s first ever representatives in the group stages of this competition. And they’d acquitted themselves pretty creditably, drawing twice with recent CL runners up Atletico Madrid, and only losing narrowly to AS Roma at home.
Chelsea had ceded control of Group C though, in a pitiful, bumbling performance in Rome. Their slim hopes of winning the group stage were pinned on tonight’s results – Chelsea had to win in Baku, and Roma had to lose, or draw in Madrid.
Gurban Gurbanov had his team set out in a 4-2-3-1 formation with top scorer Dino Ndlovu as the primary striker, supported centrally by Michel with Mahir Madatov and Wilde-Donald Guerrier on the wings.
Chelsea swapped out Alvaro Morata, Gary Cahill, Andreas Christensen and Tiemoue Bakayoko for Pedro, Antonio Rudiger, David Luiz and Willian respectively. Otherwise this was the same 3-5-2 setup Conte had used successfully against Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion, in their last two premier league games.
Line-Ups & Ratings
Sehic 7, Medvedev 5.5, Sadygov 6, Rzezniczak 5.5, Agolli 5, Richard 5.5, Garayev 5.5, Guerrier 5.5 (Yunuszada 5), Michel 6, Madatov 6 (Diniyev 5), Ndlovu 5.5 (Quintana 5)
Subs Kanibolotskiy, Amirguliev, Yunuszada, Ismayilov, Diniyev, Quintana, Sheydaev
Courtois 7, Zappacosta 6.5, Azpilicueta 7.5, Luiz 7, Rudiger 7.5, Alonso 6.5, Kante 7.5 (Drinkwater 6.5), Willian 9, Fabregas 8, Hazard 8 (Morata 7), Pedro 7
Subs Caballero, Christensen, Cahill, Bakayoko, Drinkwater, Sterling, Morata
Good Start For Qarabag
It was supposed to be so easy, with Chelsea controlling the game from kick-off – at least that’s what it said in the script which their hosts very unkindly failed to follow. In fact, Qarabag displayed a little bit of their mentality in the first few seconds, when left back Ansi Agolli sneaked in a crafty forearm to Davide Zappacosta’s face during a minor coming together on the wing.
Apart from those antics like that though, they showed some intelligent movement and passing in the opening twenty minutes. They also kept their shape and were focused in defence. Cesc Fabregas had a weak shot saved by Sehic in the first few minutes, but at the other end, Mahir Madatov stole the ball off Zappacosta on the edge of the area, before Cesar Azpilicueta blocked his shot with a last-ditch sliding tackle.
Then in the twelfth minute, Qarabag somehow missed their best chance of the match. Madatov squared to Michel, who dribbled past N’golo Kante then passed right to Maksim Medvedev. The full back exchanged passes with Ndlovu, then possession fell to Michel again, who had moved up unmarked to just outside the six-yard box. His shot struck the bar though, and Richard completely skied the rebound.
Maybe David Luiz’s attempted tackle put Michel off a little, but if he’d kept it on target, it would have been a glorious goal, worthy of any Champions League team this season.
Maybe A Penalty
The game stayed relatively even until the 18th minute, when referee Manuel de Sousa made the call that changed the game. Or maybe Qarabag center back Rashad Sadygov did, it was difficult to tell.
Eden Hazard split the opposition defence with a through ball into the box, and as Willian took possession, Sadygov appeared to foul him. So the referee awarded a penalty and sent the defender off as the last man. Hazard, brimming with confidence, sent the keeper the wrong way with his penalty – 1 – 0.
There might have been contact or maybe a pull back from Sadygov, but it looked a slightly soft penalty to give. In defence of the referee though, Qarabag had a man sent off in both their two previous games. They should have trained to be especially careful in situations like this, and there was no guarantee Willian would have converted the chance.
Another Beautiful Chelsea Team Goal
Either way, Qarabag were down to ten men, and Chelsea took complete control of the game from that point. Fabregas started the team move that led to the second goal, lobbing the ball from midfield to Pedro in the attacking third. Pedro volleyed right to Willian, who tapped it up to Hazard in the penalty area. Hazard engaged his defender, then made a no look inside pass to his left – to Willian who had run up into the unattended space beside him. Willian hit it first time, an easy finish into the bottom corner for 2 – 0.
Definitely A Penalty
The first penalty might have been a bit controversial, but the second certainly wasn’t. As Willian dribbled into the box for the umpteenth time, Medvedev grabbed his shirt and held him back. The referee yellow carded Medvedev and pointed to the spot.
By this point Hazard had been subbed off for Alvaro Morata, who had made a few good chances but had not been able to convert. Cesc Fabregas had penalty duty now, but he had to take the spot kick twice, as the ref disallowed his first attempt for encroachment. He put the ball past the keeper both times though – 3 – 0.
Man Of The Match
The Chelsea players had been visibly conserving their energy since half time, and it looked like there might not be any more goals in the game. But Willian wasn’t finished. He had assisted the first penalty, scored the second goal, assisted the third penalty. Now he made and scored the fourth goal himself.
When Pedro passed to him in the opposition half, there didn’t seem to be much danger – but he drove forward with the ball, and when he saw the defence backing off him, he dragged right and unleashed a pile-driver from the edge of the area, which flew in just inside the upright for 4 – 0.
Next Stop Anfield
And now for the six-hour flight back to London, and sorting out any jet lag issues as quickly as possible. Because on Saturday, Chelsea face Liverpool away in the EPL, who’ve had an extra day’s rest and a shorter midweek trip as well.
Final Score FK Qarabag 0 – 4 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Metro
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