Chelsea the current Premier League Champions face the almost never heard of Qarabağ FK in the first round of this year’s UEFA Champions League competition tomorrow night. But who are they? Sam May gives you the rundown of all you need to know…
Known as the “Ghost City” or ”Hiroshima of Caucasus”, they are an Azerbaijani club which originates from the city of Agdam, but have been based in the capital Baku, since 1993 due to the Nagorno-Karabakh war. Azerbaijan has borders with Turkey, Russia, Iran, Armenia and Georgia, and its capital Baku where Qarabağ play, sits on the Caspian Sea.
The football club was formed in 1951, so using the date of independence it was once in the Russian Premier League. Known as The Horsemen, they are used to travelling in Europe and have experience playing against the likes of FC Twente, Borussia Dortmund and Eintracht Frankfurt.
How do they play and who to look out for?
They have two Brazilian’s for instance, Richard Almedia and midfielder Pedro Henrique, as well as two Spaniards in Míchel who joined the club in 2015 from Maccabi Haifa as previously played in England with Birmingham City in 2010. As well as winger Dani Quintana, all ensuring its attractive pass and move football.
Captain, Rashad Sadygov is comfortable on the ball and assured. They are known as the “Barcelona of the Caucasus” so expect lots of short passing and players changing positions. They won’t be as strong as their London opponents, but expect them to surprise.
Nobody is in any doubt that Chelsea will gain the win and comfortably, but what about the return leg? Again, the actual result should not be in doubt, a Chelsea win, however, comfortable? Probably not. In playing terms yes, but in comfortable terms maybe not so. Why you might ask? Firstly, the flight. Five and a half hours and three hours ahead of London, to the Caspian winter is not ideal. The game is being played towards the end of November where temperatures usually hover just above freezing, but it has been known to also sit about -8C.
The wind of the Caspian will be cutting. The Tofic Bahramov Stadium holds 31,000 and not too many Chelsea fans, so again it will be hostile. Baku is a capital of just over 1,000,000 so everyone will know where Chelsea are staying, so expect a good old “knees up” right outside the Chelsea hotel the night before the game.
A win is inevitable, and should be the case in the return fixture, but at what cost to the upmarket high flyers!