LONDON: Chelsea made a swaggering start to their Champions League challenge as memorable strikes from Pedro and Davide Zappacosta inspired a 6-0 rout of Qarabag on Tuesday.
Antonio Conte’s side were in businesslike mood against the minnows from Azerbaijan, with Pedro’s long-range effort putting them ahead early on at Stamford Bridge.
Zappacosta was making his home debut for Chelsea after his deadline day move from Torino and he marked the occasion with his first goal for the club, a cross-shot that capped a lung-bursting run from the Italy right-back.
Cesar Azpilicueta, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Michy Batshuayi were all on the scoresheet in the second half to give Chelsea their joint biggest Champions League win.
“It was a good result. We started the Champions League in the right way,” Conte said.
“I saw great commitment, focus and concentration right from the start. It was a great performance from the players.
“There were a lot of positive things from us. Davide Zappacosta played very well.”
Placed in a tricky group including Atletico Madrid and Roma, the English champions couldn’t afford to slip up against a team of Qarabag’s limited European pedigree.
Conte took a gamble by making five changes from Saturday’s 2-1 win at Leicester City, resting David Luiz, Victor Moses, Bakayoko, Antonio Rudiger and Alvaro Morata.
But Conte, whose switches were made with an eye on Sunday’s Premier League clash against Arsenal, had no need to worry as Chelsea laid seige to the Qarabag goal before taking the lead in the fifth minute.
Willian’s pass found Pedro unmarked on the edge of the penalty area and the Spain winger curled a fine first-time finish into the top corner.
Qarabag were the first club from Azerbaijan to play in the Champions League, having emerged from the ashes of their war-torn region to become one of the tournament’s most unlikely success stories.
Chelsea had no intention of letting the minnows extend their romantic tale, pushing for a second goal that almost arrived when Willian forced Ibrahim Sehic to save.
When Conte’s men doubled their lead in the 30th minute, it was laced with more than a slice of good fortune.
Taking possession deep inside his own half, Zappacosta embarked on a surge that took him clear of two Qarabag defenders and towards the visitors’ area.
After looking up, seemingly to measure a cross from wide on the right flank, the Italian’s whipped delivery instead caught out Sehic as it flashed into his net at the near post.
Whether he meant it or not, Zappacosta was quick to soak up the acclaim of the crowd.
Qarabag at last had a shot when Pedro Henrique brought Thibaut Courtois into action.
It was only a temporary respite and Chelsea put the result beyond doubt in the 55th minute.
Cesc Fabregas took Willian’s pass and lofted a cross towards Azpilicueta, who glanced a clever header past Sehic from close-range.
Eden Hazard was cheered to the rafters when he came off the bench in the 57th minute, making just his second appearance for Chelsea this season after ankle surgery.
Willian hit the bar with a fierce strike and, with Qarabag growing more ragged by the minute, the hosts bagged their fourth in the 71st minute.
Capitalising on slack Qarabag defending, French midfielder Bakayoko grabbed his first Chelsea goal, slotting home from Hazard’s cross.
Qarabag were so woeful at the back that even the shot-shy Batshuayi was able to fill his boots.
The Belgian forward struck in the 76th minute with a long-range drive, before Qarabag defender Maksim Medvedev deflected another Batshuayi effort into his own net. -- AFP