Pedro sets Chelsea on their way to 6-0 stroll against Qarabag

Pedro of Chelsea attempts to get past Jakub Rzezniczak of Qarabag FK during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Chelsea FC and Qarabag FK at Stamford Bridge on September 12,...

This was a mismatch that probably proved very little in terms of Chelsea’s prospects in this year’s Champions League, but a stroll that felt hugely welcome in September’s cluttered and treacherous schedule.

Antonio Conte had been braced to chop and change his lineup in the hope of negotiating a successful passage through seven games in 21 days. In the end, the head coach could offer breathers to those upon whom he leans most, safe in the knowledge this game had been won by the half-hour.

There will be few confrontations as gentle as this in the competition. Qarabag were debutants at this level and an Azerbaijan club who have endured 24 years in exile from their original home in Aghdam are still fiercely proud to be competing in the elite at all. But they were outclassed here from the outset. Atlético Madrid and Roma, goalless in Italy while Chelsea prospered, will provide far sterner tests in Group C, but those are concerns for another day. The Premier League champions had loathed life on the outside looking in on Europe last season, but could bask in the ease of a win on their return.

More significantly, with Alvaro Morata and David Luiz not required, and Pedro, César Azpilicueta and N’Golo Kanté withdrawn long before the end, they will still be fresh for Sunday’s visit of Arsenal.

“It was a good start, a perfect start, for us to play our first game back in the Champions League,” Conte said. “To score many goals, to finish the game with a clean sheet … I saw a lot of positive things. Now we have to continue, to rest tomorrow and then to start to think about the next game, a tough game against Arsenal.

“I wanted to give an opportunity to Michy [Batshuayi] and also to [Andreas] Christensen. If you play in the Champions League, it means the coach trusts you. My message tonight was this. I trust all my players, not only with words but with facts. It would be crazy to think we could play with only 13 players like last season, so we have to improve all these players to try and create a good competition, a positive competition, between them.”

No one let him down, with Batshuayi skimming home his goal from distance late on and, moments later, forcing Maksim Medvedev to convert into his own net from Davide Zappacosta’s low centre. Christensen, who has featured for Borussia Mönchengladbach at this level, was never flustered. Neither was this team.

Two of the home side’s number departed savouring their first Chelsea goals. Tiemoué Bakayoko’s was slammed home from close-range once Qarabag’s resistance had crumbled completely, fatigue gripping after the runaround they had endured. Michel and Badavi Huseynov had rather cramped each other’s style at Eden Hazard’s cross, the ball bouncing off the Spaniard into the France midfielder’s path. The finish was simple.

Zappacosta admitted good fortune had assisted his own reward on the half-hour. The Italian collected from Thibaut Courtois deep inside his own half, burst beyond two retreating opponents on the touchline and having glanced towards the centre to spy a team-mate, flung over a cross that ended up veering over the unsuspecting Ibrahim Sehic.

The goalkeeper had taken a step off his line in anticipation of collecting a cross, but the ball ended up flying over his dive and into the far corner. Zappacosta, a £23m arrival from Torino on transfer deadline day, celebrated with gusto in front of the Shed end, the home support rejoicing in a familiar chant in the absence of Diego Costa.

“I was really pleased with his performance,” Conte said. “He already knew very well my style and idea of football, so he was prepared to play. But it’s not easy to change your sporting life totally in one week. His answer was really good.”

Qarabag, with their sprinkling of Brazilian, Haitian, Spanish and South African attacking talent, had been overwhelmed from the outset, punctured by Pedro’s wonderfully curled finish five minutes in and defensively demoralised by the pace and invention of Chelsea’s attacks.

Willian, a figure revived after last term’s lull in form, tormented Wilde-Donald Guerrier, Cesc Fàbregas prompted from the centre, Kanté was his customary blur of energy, while both wing-backs sprinted into enemy territory with glee.

Even Azpilicueta scored a first goal in this competition, easing unchecked on to Fàbregas’s arced centre to nod beyond the exposed Sehic. “Chelsea are my favourites for the tournament,” the Azerbaijani coach, Gurban Gurbanov, said. It was impossible to judge that from this rout, but an upbeat tone has been set.

Trickier occasions than this lie ahead.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Dominic Fifield at Stamford Bridge, for The Guardian on Tuesday 12th September 2017 21.50 Europe/London

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