PMB: Chelsea v Qarabag - history and tactics


We complete our preview for the game with a glance at the past and a view of some possible factors tonight from club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton…



While Chelsea are preparing for a 15th Champions League group stage outing, this is the maiden voyage of visitors Qarabag, the 2016/17 title winners of Azerbaijan.

It will also be our first ever encounter with the Horsemen, and the first match of any kind against an Azeri team.

Qarabag are the 77th club Chelsea have played in European competition, and Azerbaijan is the 29th different country to provide opposition.


A banquet at the Dorchester on 14 September 1955 to celebrate Chelsea’s first 50 years with Walter Toomer, 72, the oldest former player present became a League Championship victory party. ‘It was a gay occasion,’ one paper reported. ‘Six hundred guests … pranced up from their seats during dinner and toasted anything to do with football that the Chelsea chairman, Mr J H Mears, could think of.’ Sadly Joe Mears (pictured below) collapsed during the evening and was taken to hospital.

The Azeris’ only previous English adversaries were Tottenham Hotspur in the 2015/16 Europa League group stage. They lost that tie 1-4: 1-3 away (a game they led at one stage through a spot-kick) and 0-1 back home in Baku – a late Harry Kane strike.   


Chelsea’s biggest home win in Europe

29/09/71            Chelsea 13-0 Jeunesse Hautcharage        Cup Winners’ Cup 1st rd 2nd leg


Qarabag’s biggest away win in Europe

30/06/11            Banga 0-4 Qarabag         Europa League 1st qual 1st leg




• Last season, Antonio Conte became the first Chelsea boss in Premier League history to field an unchanged side in five successive matches. This is the second of seven matches over 22 hectic September days, though, and he has made it clear he will be rotating players over the coming weeks. With Arsenal, who play in the Europa League on Thursday, next up at the Bridge, the Italian confirmed Eden Hazard will begin tonight on the bench. The Belgian carved out two chances in the dozen or so minutes of his eagerly-awaited comeback after surgery on Saturday.


• Alvaro Morata has now headed nine league goals since August 2016, more than anyone in Europe’s top leagues except Torino’s Andrea Belotti (10), but may be held back so that Michy Batshuayi can make his Champions League bow. Gary Cahill, whose three-game domestic ban has been completed, could be eased back into action in the back three, possibly alongside Andreas Christensen, who at 21 has already figured nine times in this competition. Willy Caballero is another who may be drafted in to hand another busy international, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, a free week, and Conte and his staff will have been monitoring others for signs of fatigue or the need for playing time. Unfortunately, a calf injury appears to have ruled out transfer deadline signing Danny Drinkwater, who would otherwise be looking at his 11th outing at this level.


• Chelsea have had little time to scout the opposition, who have not played a game for more than a fortnight. Conte and his assistants will know many of the Qarabag players, though, as they form the bulk of the Azerbaijan team he faced as Italy boss. The Horsemen play dynamic, direct, third-gear football. They attempt snap shots from outside the area and have several players who like to skip past opponents. Chief among them is 28-year-old no.77, Haiti-born wide forward Wilde-Donald Guerrier (pictured shooting below). 

• Their midfield is also likely to contain the Azeri schemer of Brazilian descent, Richard Almeida, and Spanish winger Michel. He may be familiar to some Blues fans as he was a sub for James McFadden when his then Birmingham City side succumbed 3-0 at the Bridge. The Azeris’ danger man in front goal is Dino Ndlovu, the 27-year-old from South Africa who netted four times in their long drawn out qualifying process. Young homegrown striker Mahir Madatov, though, has hit three goals in three games domestically.  

• Qarabag’s main goalkeeper, Anton Kanibolotskiy, was until recently the no.3 at Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk where he was a team-mate of Willian.

• As veterans of three Europa League group stages, Stamford Bridge is not the first iconic stadium in which Qarabag have played, but it will be a far cry from the Horsemen’s usual domestic experience. Their league ground accommodates fewer than 6,000 and is often half or two-thirds full.  

• Head coach Gurban Gurbanov is not particularly wedded to a single formation and in qualification matches used 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1 and a 4-2-3-1 that can be attacking or defensive. The 45-year-old will have been in his role 10 years next summer.





Danny Drinkwater (calf)