Antonio Conte to rotate players for Champions League opener
Chelsea begin Group C campaign with low-key clash against Azerbaijan’s Qarabag
Antonio Conte: “It’s normal when you have to play seven games in 21 days to rotate my players.” Photograph: Adrian Dennis/Getty
Antonio Conte is poised to rotate his players when Chelsea make their Champions League return tonight. The Premier League winners play their second of seven games in September when their Group C campaign opens against Azerbaijan’s Qarabag.
Sunday’s league match at home to Arsenal follows and Conte is not prepared to ask too much of players so early in the season.
“You are never relaxed in England because you have to play a tough league and also FA Cup and also Carabao Cup,” the manager said.
“Now we are starting to play the Champions League. To play 60, 65 games it’s normal but it’s not easy.
“In my past sometimes before a Champions League game you rested. In England it’s not easy to do this. When you make the decision [on selection] there is always the risk. The risk could be to play with the same players as against Leicester and then after the game: ‘Why didn’t you change the team that was tired?’
“You know if you win you’ve 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. It’s normal when you have to play seven games in 21 days to rotate my players. I’m very calm because I trust my players.”
Chelsea were not in continental competition last season after they finished 10th in the previous Premier League campaign, which included the sacking of José Mourinho.
It was the first time in 20 years that Chelsea were not involved in Europe and they had been in every Champions League group stage since 2003-04. Conte has Champions League pedigree as a player, reaching four finals, winning one. As a manager he took Juventus to the -quarter-finals and wants to make his mark with Chelsea but believes it will take time.
“In the Champions League we are starting a path and it will be very important to start building something important,” he said. “To win a competition you need to work very hard, to improve over years and to grow step by step and to arrive to be like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus are the same now. You don’t create a big strong team easily.”
Danny Drinkwater is unavailable, with the extent of his calf injury sustained in training on Sunday still to be determined. The playmaker Eden Hazard is likely to continue as a substitute after only recently returning from a fractured ankle.
Gary Cahill, the club captain, is eager to play, having served a three-match domestic ban after his sending-off in the season opener against Burnley.
Chelsea will support criminal prosecutions and take the “strongest possible action”, including bans, if any supporters are found to have used antisemitic language. A group of Chelsea supporters chanted about the striker Álvaro Morata during the win over Leicester on Saturday, making a derogatory reference to Tottenham as “yids”.
Chelsea’s head of communications and public affairs, Steve Atkins, said: “That language used was antisemitic. We have a zero-tolerance policy towards it. If there is evidence that season ticket holders or members took part in that, and take part in it in the future, then we will take the strongest possible action against them, which includes bans.” Guardian Service