Chelsea can seal progression into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday if they beat Azerbaijani opposition in the form of Qarabag FK.
The Blues are currently second in Group C, four points clear of third placed side Atletico Madrid.
Qarabag can still mathematically qualify for the next round, but in order to achieve this, they must beat both of the top two sides in their group, AS Roma and Chelsea, whilst hoping for other results to fall in favour to them. A more realistic target for them would be to secure a UEFA Europa League place as they are currently just a point behind Atletico.
Blues manager Antonio Conte is set to have a full squad available for selection, barring wing-backs Victor Moses and Baba Rahman, who are both currently injured.
Here is our predicted team that Conte will use in Chelsea’s crucial UEFA Champions League tie in Azerbaijan on Wednesday.
Predicted team (3-5-1-1): Thibaut Courtois; Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen, Gary Cahill; Davide Zappacosta, N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Cesc Fabregas, Marcos Alonso; Eden Hazard; Alvaro Morata
Predicted substitutes: Willy Caballero, Antonio Rudiger, David Luiz, Danny Drinkwater, Kenedy, Willian, Pedro
First choice goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has kept three consecutive clean sheets in his last three league matches in a Chelsea shirt for the first time since May; his form makes him almost certain to start in Baku.
The Blues’ last two victories, in which they have kept back-to-back shut outs, has seen the central defensive trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill start together. Their impressive performances together could see them line-up again as a trio for the third match in a row. The trio have already played together twice in the UEFA Champions League, in their home matches against Qarabag FK and AS Roma earlier in the competition.
Since Victor Moses sustained a hamstring injury against Crystal Palace last month, Davide Zappacosta has started in five of Chelsea’s seven matches, keeping three clean sheets. His recent run of good performances means that he is likely to start against Qarabag, the club that he scored his first ever Blues goal against.
Manager Conte appears to have found the right midfield balance via the combination of N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas; they could once again been deployed as this is a must win game for The Pensioners. However, Antonio Conte will have the upcoming match against Liverpool at the back of his mind and could reshuffle the pack for rotational purposes.
Spaniard Marcos Alonso scored his first Chelsea goal since August during The Blues’ 4-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday; he is set to retain his place on the left side of the five-man midfield.
The attacking duo of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata ripped West Brom to pieces on Saturday, scoring three of The Blues’ four goals between them. Conte seems to be sticking with a two-man strike partnership in his set-up, which means that Hazard and Morata could look set to be Chelsea’s future.
Roma and Atletico both found it difficult during their away matches in Baku this season; although Qarabag are the weakest side in Group C on paper, they will still make it a daunting task for Chelsea on Wednesday.
Score Prediction: Qarabag FK 1-3 Chelsea
By Jonty Colman