LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea coach Antonio Conte said on Tuesday that he wanted his players to fight for their places as they compete domestically and in Europe in a packed schedule this season.
The Premier League champions returned to Champions League action against Qarabag after failing to qualify last season and Italian Conte used several second-string players as he rotated his squad and allowed them to show their worth.
Chelsea’s 6-0 drubbing of the Azeri debutants in Group C gave new signings Davide Zappacosta, captured on deadline day from Torino, and Frenchman Tiemoue Bakayoko the chance to shine, with both players scoring their first goals for the club.
It also allowed former youth team defender Andreas Christensen a taste of the big time and the Dane proved solid and composed at the back.
Striker Michy Batshuayi, who played second fiddle last season to striker Diego Costa and is behind new Spanish signing Alvaro Morata in the pecking order this term, also got on the scoresheet.
“We have to improve these players to create a good competition between them - a positive competition,” Conte said.
“Today I wanted to give an opportunity to Michy and to these players...
“To play in Champions League means the coach trusts you and my message tonight was that I trust all my players.”
It was an easy start for the 2012 Champions League winners against a side making their first foray into Europe’s elite competition.
Chelsea will face much stiffer challenges not only in a Champions League group that includes AS Roma and Atletico Madrid but also in the Premier League where they host London rivals Arsenal on Sunday.
Morata, defender David Luiz and winger Victor Moses are likely to return for that clash but Conte said he was being very cautious with forward Eden Hazard.
The gifted Belgian, at the heart of Chelsea’s Premier League success last season, is still not back to full fitness after injuring his ankle playing for his country last June.
He came on for half an hour on Tuesday with the points already in the bag.
“For Eden Hazard it’s early. We must have a bit of patience with him, to give him the opportunity to recover very well to be totally fit,” Conte said.
“We must do the best for the player and for the team or otherwise we risk another injury.”
Reporting by Clare Lovell; editing by Ken Ferris