Antonio Conte hinted that he will make significant changes to his Chelsea team to face Qarabag in the Champions League on Tuesday, but deadline day signing Danny Drinkwater is likely to miss out through injury.
Chelsea’s return to Champions League action falls within a gruelling September run of seven matches in 21 days across three competitions, and Conte must also plan for the visit of rivals Arsenal to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
“We played a tough game [against Leicester City] and for sure now if we play seven games in 21 days, it’s not easy,” Conte said. “For this reason it’s normal to prepare some rotations [in the team]. I trust all my players in my squad. There is the necessity to rotate and to play game by game.
“Qarabag is a good team and for them this is the first time to play this competition. I know a lot of these players very well because I played against Azerbaijan when I was Italian coach. We played in our qualification [group] against them. There are a lot of players that play in the national team.
“We must pay great attention. These type of games I like to call these games ‘tricky games.’ And we must pay great attention.
“But we played two days ago, we have to play tomorrow, then we have to play a tough game against Arsenal. Then Carabao Cup [against Nottingham Forest], then two days more against Stoke, then Atletico Madrid, then Man City.
“I think it’s normal and there is the necessity to do rotation. Otherwise you arrive to play the rest of the games with your team without energy.”
Antonio Conte speaks ahead of Chelsea’s Champions League match against Qarabag. Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Conte’s willingness to rotate could mean opportunities to start for Andreas Christensen, Davide Zappacosta, Michy Batshuayi and even academy youngster Charly Musonda, though Drinkwater is highly unlikely to feature after sitting out training on Monday with a calf problem.
Meanwhile, Eden Hazard’s recovery from a broken ankle will also continue to be managed with caution.
“He is in the group, in the squad, and he is working very well to find the best physical condition,” Conte said of the Belgium international.
“He needs a bit of time to continue to improve and [for us] to avoid to take stupid risks with him. But now he’s available and he will come on the bench.”
Chelsea are under pressure to make a convincing start to their Champions League campaign against Qarabag with formidable matches home and away against Atletico Madrid and Roma still to come, but Conte said he must be prepared to take the gamble of changing his starting XI.
“I think that when you make the decision [to rotate] there is always a risk,” he said. “The risk could be to play with the same players as against Leicester, and then after the game you ask ‘Why didn’t you change the team that was tired?’
“I think in our job our eyes are important, our previous experience as player and as coach. You know very well that if you win you made the best decision, if you lose you’ve made the worst decision. I must be realistic, I must be calm, to make the best decision for these seven games.
“Seven games in 21 days means you have to play every three days. Honestly, it’s not easy for the players to play every game.”