Up until about five minutes ago, I assumed this game was going to start at the same time as all the usual Champions League games. Had I thought about critically, I obviously would’ve realized that would not be possible — Azerbaijan is four hours ahead of GMT — but I didn’t, so it was a bit of a surprise. So, this game starts at 5pm, not 7:45pm GMT. Plan accordingly.
In any case, Chelsea’s task is clear: win and we’re in (the knockout rounds). Lose and things could get complicated. Atlético and Roma play later (at the usual time) with Atléti’s hopes of making the knockout rounds hanging on by a thread. Roma are guaranteed at least third and currently control the group. If they win and Chelsea only draw, they win the group and we finish second.
Chelsea beat Qarabag 6-0 at the Bridge, but the Azerbaijani champions have hung tough in all three games since, including back-to-back draws against the admittedly underachieving Atléti. Meanwhile, Chelsea have followed up two wins from two with a draw and a core-shaking loss to AS Roma.
Which Chelsea side will show up after traveling 4000km with barely any time to rest and recover from Saturday’s exertions?
Date / Time: Wednesday, November 22, 2017, 17:00 GMT; 12pm EST; 10:30pm IST
Venue: Baku Olympic Stadium, Baku, Azerbaijan
Referee: Jorge de Sousa — Portugal’s “best referee” is a new one for us, though the 42-year-old has been active on the international scene since 2006. This will be his second Champions League appointment this season and eleventh overall.
Forecast: Gusty winds, light showers possible — Baku, “the City of Winds” (not the Windy City) in the “Land of Fire” (as familiar from various advertisements) has a semi-arid climate, similar to most of the rain-shadowed non-mountainous regions of the United States east of the Cascades and west of the Great Plains.
On TV: BT Sport 2 (UK); Fox Sports 2, FOX Deportes (USA); Sony TEN 2 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: BT Sport Live (UK); FOX Soccer Match Pass, ESPN3 in select markets (USA); Sony TEN LIV (India)
Qarabag team news: Qarabag remain top of the 8-team Premyer Liqa (that’s an easy translation!) and have lost just 2 games in all competitions since the 6-0 shellacking at Stamford Bridge, conceding just 4 goals in those 11 games.
They will be without forward Pedro Henrique, who’s serving a suspension after getting sent off against Atlético on matchday 4. South African international striker Dino Ndlovu, who was sent off against Atlético on matchday 3 returns. He scored over the weekend in the 2-0 win over Sumqayit.
The Horsemen will finish out their Champions League campaign away from home, so this will be a grand occasion and a chance for an historic upset.
Chelsea team news: Antonio Conte returns to the stadium where he ensured Euro 2016 qualification for Italy, looking to ensure knockout round qualification for Chelsea instead. He will have to do so without four regular squad members, with Victor Moses (hamstring), Michy Batshuayi (ankle), Charly Musonda Jr (knee), and Kenedy (undisclosed) all missing in action.
How much and who Conte will rotate for this game will be a talking point as Chelsea are in the middle of extremely busy week. There are very few obvious choices, which does leave plenty of opportunity to criticise in hindsight.
That said, Chelsea have won 5 of 6 in all competitions and while that Roma loss stings, confidence should be high, or at least growing. Conte has called this the most important game of the season so far due to the possibility to qualify for the next round, which thus makes it a must-win.