Football

Conte: No rest for the qualified

Conte says his team was preparing for Liverpool clash on the flight back from Azerbaijan

Chelsea might have recorded a comfortable 4-0 Champions League Group C win over Qarabag yesterday morning (Singapore time), but manager Antonio Conte is anything but resting easy.

Goals from Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and a double from Willian in Baku, Azerbaijan, helped the Blues seal their place in the last 16, and Conte immediately turned his attention to the blockbuster clash with Liverpool on Sunday morning (Singapore time).

"We have to work during the flight, to prepare (for) the game against Liverpool," said Conte, who reiterated his frustrations with the Premier League's fixture schedule.

"To have only one day to rest and only one day to prepare (for) this big game is not simple, is not easy. I think also it's not right...

"When people hear the complaints of the coach, also someone has to help us.

"The press, the TV, to underline this strange situation."

The Italian added that his team showed "great character" to respond to their 3-0 loss to Roma two weeks ago to seal their spot in the Champions League knockout stage.

Blues skipper Gary Cahill noted that yesterday's win "alleviates the pressure" for their final match against Atletico Madrid.

He said: "We knew we had to win. We didn't want to leave it until the last game, for what will be a very difficult game.

"It does alleviate the pressure against Atletico... Beating Qarabag has taken some of the edge off."

Yesterday's tie swung in the London side's favour as early as the 19th minute when Qarabag captain Rashad Sadygov was sent off for a foul in the penalty box on Willian. Hazard converted the resultant penalty.

It was a decision that frustrated Qarabag boss Gurban Gurbanov, who said: "Maybe if we were not a small country or small team the decision would've been different. Chelsea didn't need this red card. The decision was a bit harsh."

Willian, however, was adamant he deserved the spot-kick.

He told BT Sport: "For me it was a penalty - I don't think for you guys it is, but for me it was a penalty. I'm happy to score two goals. We deserved to win."

While the Brazilian bagged a brace, it was Hazard who stole the show.

Said former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport: "He's definitely world class.

"He's the reason that Chelsea were winning the league. He's the reason if they go deep in this competition."

TOTAL PACKAGE

His fellow BT Sport pundit, and former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, added: "He's got everything. He scores goals, he creates goals, he's got vision, speed, he's direct."

Hazard has scored six goals and assisted five more in his 15 starts for Chelsea, thriving in a more central role under Conte.

Said former teammate Frank Lampard of the 26-year-old Belgian playmaker on BT Sport: "Goals is the one question mark really - we speak about him regularly and the number of goals he gets.

"But the position he's in this season gets him closer to the goal and he picks it up centrally.

"He can play as a false nine but you can ask Willian and Pedro to alternate with him. I do like seeing him in this central role though.

"When he does get in these central positions he can finish... He is the magic in this Chelsea team."

How long he'll be in the Chelsea team remains to be seen, with Hazard regularly linked with Real Madrid.

He told French broadcaster Canal+: "I am always very fine at this club... When I feel the desire to leave, I'll leave. But, for now, I'm a Blue.

"We know the admiration that I have for Real, but I'm at Chelsea. Every year, things were said about me but I stayed." - WIRE SERVICES

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