Dominic Fifield at the Baku Olympic Stadium on 22 November 2017
Antonio Conte was expecting to endure a sleepless night despite Chelsea securing progress into the knockout stage of the Champions League, with the manager spending the five-and-a-half-hour flight from Baku to London preparing for the awkward trip to Liverpool on Saturday.
A comfortable 4-0 victory against Qarabag, aided by the hosts being reduced to 10 men early on, guaranteed Chelsea’s involvement in the competition in the new year. Yet, with his squad able to fit in only one full training session, on Friday morning, before the game at Anfield, Conte and his coaching staff intended to use the 2,500-mile overnight flight to Gatwick to fine-tune their plans.
The coaching staff had watched Liverpool’s 3-3 draw at Sevilla on Tuesday in their hotel in Azerbaijan. “We have to work during the flight to prepare for the game against Liverpool,” said Conte, who will put his players through a brief warm-down session at Cobham on Thursday afternoon. They will train as normal on Friday before flying to Merseyside in the afternoon.
“To have only one day to rest and prepare for such a big game is not easy. I think also it’s not right. The English league is very tough. There are six top teams who try to fight for the title. To create, for the second time in only one and a half months, problems for one team is not right. Someone has to help us to underline this strange situation.” Conte could at least point to an improved performance as cause for optimism, with Willian scoring twice and winning two penalties, albeit against depleted opposition. “This group is showing great character,” he said, basking in the contrast with the fallout from his previous Champions League away game, a 3-0 thrashing at Roma.
“From the start, we faced a lot of problems this season. But, despite this, I think our answer was almost always positive. For sure the second half against Roma was bad but I think I’m very happy to be the coach of these players, because they show me every day great commitment, great will, great desire to fight despite a lot of difficulties sometimes. We are a really good squad. There is a great compactness between us that will be very important for the present and the future.”