Chelsea vs Qarabag – Tuesday 19:45 BT/20:45 CET at Stamford Bridge – London, United Kingdom.
After four unsuccessful attempts, Qarabag have finally reached the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. Azerbaijan now becomes the fifth post-Soviet Republic to be represented in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League after Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
For Qarabag to reach the group stage of the UEFA Champions League is, therefore, a significant step in Azerbaijan’s football development. It is, therefore, no major surprise that the countries officials widely celebrated Qarabag Agdam’s success. But there is of course more to Qarabag’s story. Originally from the city of Agdam, which is located in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is occupied by Armenia, Qarabag receives extraordinary funding from companies connected to government agencies. Azerbaijan’s government has long understood football to be a means to further the countries image, but also remind the international community about the conflict in the region.
The club is, therefore, more than just a club acting almost as a propaganda vehicle for Azerbaijan. On the pitch that of course matters little to the squad, who after all have written history by becoming the first team from Azerbaijan to reach the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. Drawn in a group with Chelsea, Roma and Atlético Madrid, who are also connected to the government to of Azerbaijan, Qarabag fans are expecting three football festivals for Qarabag’s home games in Baku.
But first Qarabag will have to travel to London where they will be considered the outsiders in the game against the English champion Chelsea. Chelsea lost the opening game of the season to Burnley FC, but since then have recovered and won their last three English Premier League games beating Tottenham, Everton and Leicester. With Chelsea in form, Qarabag will be nothing more than a sparring partner on matchday 1 of the UEFA Champions League.
Chelsea vs Qarabag – Players to look out for:
Álvaro Morata #9 – Chelsea
Signed from Real Madrid this summer Álvaro Morata was bought by Chelsea to replace his Spanish national team Diego Costa, who had a major falling out with Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte last season. Costa has remained at the club, however, creating an awkward situation between the head coach and the Diego Costa. Thankfully for Chelsea, however, Morata has been unaffected by the conflict between Costa and Conte. In his first four games for Chelsea Morata scored three goals. A mobile all-around striker Morata also seems to be a better fit for Costa’s tactics that see Morata operate in front of two attacking midfielders.
Dino Ndlovu #9 – Qarabag
The South African striker Dino Ndlovu was signed by Qarabag last summer from the Cypriot side Anorthosis. The 27-year-old is looking back at a journeyman career that included stints in Israel, South Africa and Cyprus before finally arriving in Azerbaijan. Last season Ndlovu scored ten goals in 23 Premyer Liqasi games for Qarabag and was one of the main reasons for the Azeri club to win the title once again.
Chelsea vs Qarabag – Match Stats
- Champions of England for a sixth time in 2016-17, Chelsea are meeting their first-ever opponents from Azerbaijan.
- Chelsea were not involved in European competition last term, for the first time since 1996-97. They had appeared in every UEFA Champions League group stage going back to 2003-04.
- The Azerbaijani club reached the group stage for the first time by beating Georgian champions FC Samtredia in the second qualifying round (5-0 home, 1-0 away) and Moldova’s FC Sheriff (0-0 home, 2-1 away). In the playoffs, they won 1-0 at home to FC København and advanced on away goals after a 2-1 defeat in Denmark.
- This is Qarabağ’s fourth UEFA Champions League campaign; in each of the previous three, they were eliminated in the third qualifying round. Last year they ousted F91 Dudelange 3-1 on aggregate in the second qualifying round but lost to FC Viktoria Plzeň (0-0 away, 1-1 home) in the next stage.
- Qarabağ had won their last two away games in Europe before losing at FCK; they had won just two of the previous 11 (D2 L7) however.
Futbolgrad’s Prediction: Chelsea vs Qarabag 5-0
Chelsea vs Qarabag – Possible Lineups
Courtois – David Luiz, Azpilicueta, Rüdiger – Alonso, Kanté, Bakayoko, Moses – Fábregas, Pedro – Morata
Manager: Antonio Conte
Sehic – Agolli, Guseynov, Rzezniczak, Medvedev – Garayev – Madatov, Michel, Richard, Guerrier – Ndlovu
Manager: Gurban Gurbanov
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and social media junior editor at Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.