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Chelsea are Euro stars once more

TWO GOALS: Michy Batshuayi

THEIR ABSENCE from last year's competition couldn't have been felt more keenly as Chelsea were forced to look on as Europe's top club completion carried on without them. A year later and boy did they quickly make up for lost time with the 6-0 walloping of Azerbaijan's Qarabag FK. If ever their was a Champions League gentle loosner, then this was it as Pedro opened the scoring after just five minutes.

Summer arrival Davide Zappacosta hit a stunner from the wing following a fast break before Cesar Azpilicueta, substitute Tiemoue Bakayoko, Michy Batshuayi and an own goal from Maksim Medvedev saw Chelsea secure the maximum points in their opening Group C fixture.

On the touchline, Antonio Conte was as animated as always, but as his side's goals flew in, even he appeared a more restrained character, no doubt his focus already shifting to Sunday's Premier League arrival of neighbours Arsenal to Stamford Bridge.

Conte hailed his side's perfect start in a game where the Blues subs bench had Antonio Rudiger, Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata, Victor Moses, David Luiz and Bakayoko. Record signing Morata didn't even get on the pitch and will no doubt feature from the start when the Gunners arrive on Sunday.

"To play the first game, then to win with a good result, to score many goals, to finish the game with a clean sheet - I saw a lot of positive things tonight," purred Conte, who justified his five changes to the starting line up.

" To play in the Champions League it means the coach trusts you. My message tonight was this: I trust all my players, not with only words, but with facts. If we think like last season to play with only 13 players, we are crazy. We have to improve all these players to try to create a positive competition between them."

Despite coming on after 58 minutes, Conte stressed that the Blues will not rush key man Hazard back from his injury.

"We must have a bit of patience with him and to try to give the possibility for Eden to recover very well. We must be calm and to do the best for the player and for the team. Otherwise we risk a bad injury to delay the situation. This is the right way. This process is good for him."

Shorn of their home ground in Agdam due to the ongoing dispute with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabkh region and the war since 1993, Qarabag FK have been forced to play their home fixtures 200 miles away in the Azerbaijan capital Baku. Qarabag's first ever Champions League fixture will he hailed and despite the result they fizzed and played with purpose despite rarely threatening Thibaut Courtois's goal. Dino Ndlovu came closest but skied two efforts having cleverly worked the opening. His manager Gurban Gurbanov was philosophical at the final whistle.

"The game was very difficult for us. Chelsea played very good. Chelsea is a favourite for the tournament. We made lots of errors and I accept we must play even better. But I am satisfied with the way we played."

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