Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has asked for help from the media to highlight “strange” fixture scheduling as his side reached the last 16 of the Champions League with a comfortable victory against 10-man Qarabag.
Two goals from Willian, as well as spot-kicks from Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas, confirmed the Blues will finish in the top two of Group C with a game to spare.
But after the game Conte reiterated his concern at having to play Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday, two days after completing a 5,000-mile roundtrip to Azerbaijan.
Chelsea had a similar turnaround between games with Atletico Madrid and Manchester City in September.
“To hear the complaints of the coach, someone has to help us. The press and the TV to underline the situation, because it is strange,” said the Italian, whose side are third in the Premier League and two points above Liverpool.
“As you know very well the English League is very tough. There are six top teams that fight for the title. I don’t want to complain, but this is the reality.
“Now we have to travel five hours and a half and then rest one day and then prepare the game against Liverpool, another big game like Manchester City. To create for the second time in one month and a half is not right.”
Willian shines for Blues
Forward Willian had scored just one goal prior to this game this season – against Everton in the League Cup – but played a pivotal role in this win for the Blues, also winning two penalties.
After former Birmingham City midfielder Michel hit the bar for Qarabag, Chelsea were awarded their first spot kick when Rashad Sadygov was adjudged to have pulled down Willian inside the area. Sadygov was subsequently sent off and Hazard sent the goalkeeper the wrong way from the spot.
The visitors quickly added a second following a stunning passage of play which ended with Hazard backheeling the ball for Willian to side-foot home.
Chelsea beat Qarabag 6-0 at Stamford Bridge in the first Group C game between the two sides back in September and a repeat of such a scoreline looked likely with Antonio Conte’s side capable of scoring with every attack.
Another foul on Willian midway through the second half allowed Fabregas to add a third from the spot before Willian’s thunderous drive late on ensured Chelsea’s place into the knockout round with a game to spare.
Chelsea, the last English team to win the Champions League when they triumphed in 2012, move top of their group with 10 points from five games, although Roma can reclaim top spot if they beat Atletico Madrid later on Wednesday.
Fearsome front three eases Conte concerns
Conte could have fielded a significantly weakened side to avoid overstretching his key players but with a win over Qarabag guaranteeing progression to the knockout round, the Italian clearly wanted to get the job done in Baku, rather than rely on needing a result in their final group game against Atletico Madrid.
He rested key striker Alvaro Morata but Hazard – superb so far this season for Chelsea – started as a ‘false number nine’, with Pedro and Willian alongside him. It was the same front three that lined up against Leicester in January, the trio’s combination of pace, power and creativity pulled apart the Foxes defence in a 3-0 win on that occasion and it was a similar story on Wednesday.
Sadygov could only halt a powerful Willian run by tugging on the Chelsea winger’s shirt inside the area. The Qarabag skipper was dismissed and Hazard despatched the penalty with ease.
If that decision was a little harsh on the hosts, the move for the second goal was worthy of winning any game. Pedro flicked a ball on for Willian, who then found Hazard and the Belgium international executed a superb backheel back into the path of the Brazilian, who stroked home.
At that the point the hosts effectively gave up on trying to get a result, instead switching to damage limitation mode as they looked to avoid another hefty defeat to the Blues.
That enabled Conte to think ahead to this weekend, bringing off Marcos Alonso and Hazard around the hour mark, but Willian stayed on, winning another penalty when his shirt was pulled again, before capping an impressive display with a powerful finish.
The Brazilian has largely been a bit-part player for the Blues this season, having started the club’s last four games on the bench, but this performance – albeit against limited opposition – will give his manager much to consider heading into a busy period.
Man of the match was Willian of Chelsea.