Chelsea’s life back in the Champions League got off to a flying start on Tuesday evening with a dominant 6-0 victory over competition new boys Qarabag, seeing them surge to the top of Group C.
The victory at Stamford Bridge was always expected to be a formality for the Blues as they embarked on their first Champions League campaign since the 2015/16 season, although few expected the match against Qarabag to be as comfortable as it was for the English champions.
The Azerbaijani champions, who are currently enjoying a 100% record in the Azerbaijan Premyer Liqa, looked a far cry from the team that took the fight to FC Copenhagen in the final qualifier just weeks earlier.
Instead, the Horsemen sat off from Chelsea, giving them time and space on the ball and they were made to suffer for it.
The precedent for how to tie would go was set early on as an unmarked Pedro was teed up from a well-worked corner routine, with the Spaniard finding the net from 20-yards with a sweetly struck effort.
With five minutes gone, and finding themselves already 1-0 down, Qarabag showed no urgency in their build-up play, stroking the ball across their back four and failing to make any real inroads towards the final third of the pitch.
There were times when Chelsea’s complacency could have been taken advantage of, but being wasteful in possession, Qarabag failed to trouble the hosts at an point throughout the majority of the game.
The goal of the game, and potentially a contender for goal of the season, came when Chelsea doubled their lead via new signing Davide Zappacosta on the 20th minute.
The Italian defender, who was being utilised on the right as a wing-back, collected the ball from Thibaut Courtois to go on a blistering run down the wing, only to stop and unleash a sensational shot from 30 yards. The ball flew past Qarabag’s keeper Ibrahim Sehic and into the net, leaving the majority of Stamford Bridge with their jaws on the floor.
Although, as amazing as it was, it seemed as though Zappacosta’s effort left Chelsea in shell-shock for the remainder of the half. Throughout the remaining 25 minutes, Chelsea seemed to struggle to add to their tally, with good chances being wasted by Marcos Alonso and Michy Batshuayi.
Although Chelsea’s inability to build on their early lead could have potentially lead to troubles in another, more challenging tie, Qarabag proved lethargic when in possession and passive when Chelsea has the ball, leading to a slower tempo than usually expected in Champions League fixtures.
Going into the break Chelsea led 2-0 thanks to efforts from Pedro and Zappacosta, with the only blemish in their performance being a poor challenge from captain Gary Cahill on Qarabag’s Pedro Henrique, leading to the England and Chelsea man being shown a yellow card.
Going into the second half and it seemed as though Gurban Gurbanov’s men had a new lease on life with the Azerbaijani outfit having an early long-range effort stopped by Courtois, a sweetly struck effort that was well held by the Belgian.
However, the status quo was soon resumed with Chelsea picking up from where they left off at the end of the first half.
Once again, Qarabag’s apathy was capitalised on, leading to a well-worked goal for Cesar Azpilicueta following a quickly taken Chelsea free-kick.
Time and again, when in possession, Qarabag failed to make use of their time on the ball. Each time they found themselves in an advanced position on the pitch they would opt to play in back to their defence, leaving them with 11 Chelsea players to beat going forward.
Going into the final 20 minutes Chelsea further exercised their commanding dominance over the game, adding a fourth to their tally for the evening through substitute Tiemoue Bakayoko, who was introduced in place of N’Golo Kante.
After what had initially been a frustrating evening for the £33m man, Batshuayi finally managed to get his name on the score sheet after 76 minutes. The Blues regained possession as the visitors attempted to play the ball out from the back, with the Belgian striker latching onto the ball and converting from the edge of the box.
After waiting nearly all game for his first goal, Batshuayi was afforded the opportunity to notch his second for the evening; an opportunity he gratefully accepted, adding Chelsea’s sixth goal of the evening with less than 10 minutes remaining.
Following such a well-played performance Antonio Conte may well be left with some difficult decisions regarding who to leave out on Sunday as Zappacosta enjoyed an excellent game in Victor Moses’ absence.
With Chelsea off to such a sensational start in Europe, they will be hoping they can take some of the good energy and goal-scoring form into their weekend fixture against London rivals, Arsenal.