Before last night’s 6-0 win over Qarabag FK, Antonio Conte had won just 1 of his previous 8 games in the Champions League with the last six of those results consigning Juventus to a last place finish in the group stages of the 2013-14 Champions League. So perhaps it is understandable why he was happy to stuff his bench with some of his biggest game-changers at Chelsea, including Eden Hazard and Álvaro Morata, even as he obliged to rotate half his starters.
But as it turned out, Qarabag were truly as bad as advertised and Chelsea were good enough to take advantage repeatedly. After the match, Conte called it a ‘perfect start’, though probably referring to the scoreboard more so than the level of performance needed from the boys in Blue.
“It was a good start, a perfect start for us. To play the first game in the Champions League, to win with a good result, to score many goals and finish the game with a clean sheet — I saw a lot of positive things tonight.”
Conte was quick to praise the contributions of all those he was asked about, including Zappacosta, Bakayoko, Batshuayi, and Christensen, but of course for Conte, by definition, nothing is ever perfect and there is always room for improvement, both individually and collectively.
“[Zappacosta] played a really good game but now he has to continue to work to improve.”
“Baka is improving his physical condition a lot. He is a strong player, a physical player, and he has to continue to improve and go better in our idea of football. He needs more time than Zappacosta.”
“I wanted to give a good chance to Michy, and also to Christensen. To play in the Champions League means the coach trusts you. My message tonight was this. I trust all my players, not only with words but with facts.
“For the first game in the Champions League I decided to start with rotation. Also because we have to start the process to improve our players. If we think we can play with 13 players like last season, we are crazy. Instead, we have to improve our players and try to create a good competition between them. A positive competition is very important.”
“I am very pleased with the performance. Now we have to continue in this way [...] I had a positive answer from my players tonight.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
In Conte’s two previous Champions League campaigns as head coach, both with Juventus, he started the group stages with a draw each time. Granted, he didn’t have the luxury of facing just Qarabag -- in fact, in 2012, that game was the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge, the match which featured that Oscar goal — but a win’s a win and three points are three points, and especially considering that both Roma and Atlético dropped points yesterday, it was truly a start as perfect as we could’ve ever wanted.
That’s four wins on the bounce for Chelsea after the opening day shock against Burnley. Chance to make it five with Arsenal coming to town on Sunday.