Saturday 20 January 2018

Pedro's perfect strike in quick-fire start sets up Chelsea for stroll

Chelsea 6 Qarabag 0

Pedro celebrates after scoring. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire
Pedro celebrates after scoring. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

Miguel Delaney

Chelsea matched their biggest win in the Champions League to get this season's campaign up and running, but nobody will be getting carried away because Qarabag must be one of the worst ever sides to visit Stamford Bridge in the competition.

The gap was so big that this really was academic, and all about the numbers racked up. You could tell it was the Azerbaijani side's first game in the competition proper, and it meant Antonio Conte could make five changes to his starting line-up and still see them rack up six goals to equal the number put past Maribor in 2014-'15.

Davide Zappacosta enjoyed a particularly productive debut and a first goal for the club, with Tiemoue Bakayoko also getting his when he eventually got on the pitch.

Qarabag actually started the game quite brightly, but their defence pretty much buckled the moment that Chelsea went forward.

Within three minutes, Ibrahim Sehic had to beat away a Marcos Alonso snapshot after his backline just seemed to part in front of the goalkeeper.

Within another minute more, it was 1-0 as Pedro enjoyed even more space in front of goal. Standing unmarked at the edge of the box, he was free to pick his spot when Willian played the ball to him from a short corner and curled his shot just beyond the goalkeeper's grasp for a supreme opener.

Chelsea's Eden Hazard in action with Qarabag’s Badavi Huseynov. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Action Images via Reuters
Chelsea's Eden Hazard in action with Qarabag’s Badavi Huseynov. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Action Images via Reuters

Chelsea were on their way and already in such control that Cesc Fabregas was trying sumptuous little flicks and backheels at 1-0.

The second goal arrived on the half-hour. It was something of a fluke - not that new wing-back Zappacosta cared as his cross from deep flew into the net.

If the delivery was wayward the run was anything but as Zappacosta, making his debut, outstripped two Qarabag players on the right flank and produced an exhilaratingly brilliant touch before putting himself in the position to deliver what was surely meant to be a cross.

The only frustration up to that point - at least judging by Antonio Conte's reactions on the sideline - was that Michy Batshuayi was putting himself into good positions but not really offering good touches, given the number of times he fumbled the ball.

Chelsea's Michy Batshuayi, right, celebrates with his teammate Tiemoue Bakayoko. Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo
Chelsea's Michy Batshuayi, right, celebrates with his teammate Tiemoue Bakayoko. Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo

Had he been as slick as he was on the night at West Brom last season when he scored the title-winning goal for Chelsea, this really could have been 5-0 by half-time.

Chelsea eventually added to their tally on 54 minutes thanks to another touch of creativity by Fabregas.

Receiving the ball at the corner of the Qarabag penalty area, he delightfully flicked forward a cross with the outside of his foot, allowing Cesar Azpilicueta to nod the ball home.

Moments later, Eden Hazard was introduced for his second sub appearance since returning from injury.

Chelsea were just enjoying themselves though.

That Roma and Atletico Madrid drew in the other game will only have added to their pleasure on a night that was all about how many they scored. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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