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Sunday 18 March 2018

Chelsea v Qarabag talking points

Striker Diego Costa remains absent as Chelsea begin their Champions League campaign against Qarabag on Tuesday night
Striker Diego Costa remains absent as Chelsea begin their Champions League campaign against Qarabag on Tuesday night

Chelsea make their Champions League return with Tuesday night's Group C tie against Azerbaijan's Qarabag at Stamford Bridge. Here Press Association Sport looks at the key talking points ahead of the clash.


Chelsea, Champions League winners in 2012, were not involved in European competition last term, for the first time since 1996-97. They had appeared in every Champions League group stage since 2003-04, although suffered the ignominy of becoming the first holders to exit at that stage in 2012-13 when they went on to win the Europa League. Chelsea will be keen to start well, given a trip to Atletico Madrid and double header with Roma follow.


Chelsea won the Premier League last season in Antonio Conte's first campaign as head coach, but they did not have the added challenge of continental football. Now they do. Conte hinted at rotating his players for the visit of first-time Champions League group stage participants Qarabag for the second of seven games in what remains of September.


Sunday's game against Arsenal means this fixture, and next week's Carabao Cup tie with Nottingham Forest, may offer more peripheral figures the chance to stake a claim for further game time. Conte had questioned his squad strength in the summer and it will be tested this month. Expect to see striker Michy Batshuayi feature and some of Chelsea's youngsters may get an opportunity to show Conte they can play and give the established first-team stars a rest.


One player who will not be involved on Tuesday night is Diego Costa, the striker who has been disobeying instructions to return to Chelsea after being told he is surplus to requirements. No deal was done for Costa to leave prior to the summer transfer deadline, so the uncomfortable situation continues and will become more difficult ahead of the Atletico tie later this month. Costa is agitating for a return to his former club.


Qarabag are from the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, which was a war zone. Now there is a fragile ceasefire in the disputed territory, with Armenia and Azerbaijan both staking a claim. The conflict has origins in the break up of the Soviet Union. The football team have played in the capital Baku since 1993, but have thrived. Qarabag are seeking a fifth straight Azerbaijan league title this season.

Press Association

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