Chelsea’s Italian head coach Antonio Conte shouts instructions to his players from the touchline during the UEFA Champions League Group C football match between Chelsea and Qarabag at Stamford Bridge in London on September 12, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Adrian DENNIS
Antonio Conte believes his decision to rest several of Chelsea stars for their Champions League demolition of Qarabag will be rewarded when the Blues face Arsenal on Sunday.
Conte left out David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger, Victor Moses and Alvaro Morata for Tuesday’s 6-0 thumping of the Azerbaijan minnows at Stamford Bridge.
With those key players kept fresh and Eden Hazard coming off the bench for only his second appearance since close-season ankle surgery, Conte is confident Chelsea will go into their London derby in good condition to claim three valuable points.
“It was a good start, a perfect start us,” Conte said.
“To play the first game of the Champions League, 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. Now we have to rest and get ready for a tough game against a strong Arsenal team.”
Conte’s selection gamble was never in danger of backfiring as goals from Pedro, Davide Zappacosta, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Cesar Azpilicueta and Michy Batshuayi ensured Chelsea made a strong start to their group stage campaign.
Giving his understudies a chance for valuable game time was an added bonus for Conte, who said: “I wanted to give a chance to Michy and also to Andreas Christensen.
“To play in the Champions League means the coach trusts you.
“My message tonight was this: I trust all my players, not with only words, but with facts.
“Last season we played with only 13 players, to do that again would be crazy.
“We have to develop these players, to try and create a good competition, a positive competition, between them. It’s very important.”
Conte was also encouraged by Zappacosta’s first start following his deadline day move from Torino.
The Italy right-back capped a lung-bursting run with a cross that flew in for Chelsea’s second goal.
“He played a really good game. For sure he knew very well my style of football and for this reason I decided to start with him,” Conte said.
“It’s not easy to change your life in one week, but his answer was very good.
“He scored and that’s important us but I’m more pleased for his performance.”
Despite Hazard’s solid showing as a second half substitute, Conte admitted it might be too soon for the Belgian playmaker to start against Arsenal.
“It’s early to speak about this. We must have a bit of patience with Eden,” Conte said.
“We must give him the possibility to recover very well, to be totally fit.
“We must have calm to do the best for the player and the team. Otherwise we risk a bad injury.”
It was a chastening first taste of the Champions League group stage for Qarabag, but Gurban Gurbanov, boss of the Azerbaijan minnows, insisted it was still a proud day for his club.
“The game was very difficult for us, Chelsea played very well,” he said.
“We made lots of errors. I accept we must play better but I’m still satisfied with the performance given the quality of the opponent.
“We are happy we are part of this tournament.”