Old hands Chelsea face Qarabağ newcomers
After the unfamiliar experience of a season outside the UEFA Champions League, Chelsea FC will be out to make an impact on their return – to do so, they must overcome something of an unknown quantity in Qarabağ FK.
• The contrast in experience between the two clubs could hardly be starker. While this is Chelsea’s 15th group stage campaign – only once have they failed to reach the knockout rounds – Qarabağ are making their debut. The champions of Azerbaijan are not without group stage experience, however, having featured in the UEFA Europa League proper for each of the last three seasons.
• Champions of England for a sixth time in 2016/17, Chelsea are meeting their first-ever opponents from Azerbaijan.
• European champions in 2012, Chelsea got to the round of 16 on their last UEFA Champions League appearance in 2015/16, losing to Paris Saint-Germain for the second year running.
• Chelsea were not involved in European competition last term, for the first time since 1996/97. They had appeared in every UEFA Champions League group stage going back to 2003/04.
• The Londoners have won their UEFA Champions League group on their last three appearances, and 11 times overall. The only time they have failed to progress to the last 16 was 2012/13, when they became the first holders to go out in the group phase; even so, they went on to win the UEFA Europa League.
• The Stamford Bridge side lost 2-1 to Paris in their last UEFA Champions League home game, ending a seven-match unbeaten run in west London (W6 D1).
• The Azerbaijani club reached the group stage for the first time by beating Georgian champions FC Samtredia in the second qualifying round (5-0 home, 1-0 away) and Moldova’s FC Sheriff (0-0 home, 2-1 away). In the play-offs, they won 1-0 at home to FC København and advanced on away goals after a 2-1 defeat in Denmark.
• This is Qarabağ’s fourth UEFA Champions League campaign; in each of the previous three they were eliminated in the third qualifying round. Last year they ousted F91 Dudelange 3-1 on aggregate in the second qualifying round, but lost to FC Viktoria Plzeň (0-0 away, 1-1 home) in the next stage.
• In 2016/17, the Baku-based team contested the UEFA Europa League group stage – for the third consecutive year – after being knocked out of the UEFA Champions League. They have never gone on to the round of 32, however.
• Qarabağ qualified for the UEFA Champions League after winning the Azerbaijani Premier League for the fifth time in 2016/17 – their fourth straight championship.
• Qarabağ had won their last two away games in Europe before losing at FCK; they had won just two of the previous 11 (D2 L7) however.
Coach and player links
• Anton Kanibolotskiy and Willian were team-mates at FC Shakhtar Donetsk in 2012/13.
• Míchel was a 72nd-minute substitute in Birmingham City FC’s 3-0 Premier League defeat at Chelsea on 27 January 2010.
• Antonio Conte guided Italy to two wins against Azerbaijan in UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying: 2-1 at home and 3-1 away, the latter result clinching the Azzurri’s place in the finals. Gara Garayev, Badavi Hüseynov, Rashad F Sadygov and Rahid Amirguliyev played in the first game in Palermo, with Elvin Yunuszadä and Agabala Ramazanov unused replacements; Hüseynov was sent off in the Baku return, with Garayev, Sadygov, Amirguliyev, Maksim Medvedev, Arif Dashdemirov and Afran Ismayilov also in the starting line-up.