Antonio Conte is fully aware of the threat Atletico Madrid will pose on Wednesday, but insists the Blues must be excited for our next Champions League assignment after a year away from the competition.
Last season, the Italian’s first in the Stamford Bridge dugout, was our first outside of Europe’s premier club competition since the 2002/03 campaign, with Champions League nights previously a permanent fixture under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.
Having kicked off our return to the competition with a thumping win over Qarabag on matchday one, the Blues now have arguably our most testing game of the group stage with a trip to play a club which has been a regular challenger for the trophy.
‘We have to face a tough game against a team that in the last years played always this competition with good performance and to arrive at the final twice,’ said Conte. ‘Last season they were beaten by Real Madrid [in the semi-finals].
‘We have to prepare very well for this type of game. For sure it will be a really tough game for us, but we must be excited because last season we didn’t play this competition. Now we are playing and we have to try to do our best.
‘There are no injury worries. The players are fit and now it’s important to rest and recover well for the game on Wednesday and not forgetting we have another tough game on Saturday against Manchester City.’
Our first visit to the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano will also take Alvaro Morata back to his home town for the first time since leaving Real Madrid to join Chelsea in the summer.
The striker has netted six times already in the Premier League, including a hat-trick on Saturday against Stoke, and Conte feels he is making the most of his opportunity as the main striker at a big club.
‘Don’t forget his previous experience – he didn’t play a lot with Juventus and Real Madrid but now he has a great chance to show that he is a really good striker, a fantastic striker,’ the boss said.
‘He’s very young, only 24 years, and I think this is important for Chelsea. I think now he’s involved totally in our style of football, in our idea. He’s very strong and he showed he’s a really good, complete player.
‘The Premier League is not easy for the striker. During the game there is a lot of physical contact and you must be prepared for this type of game because also the referee doesn’t whistle a lot. I think that’s good for the game.
‘He adapted very well to this league but now he has to continue to work and improve because he’s only starting.’
One player who could be in line for a start after a late substitute appearance at Stoke is Eden Hazard, who also started his first game of the season after injury in the Carabao Cup win over Nottingham Forest.
However, Conte is happy to bide his time with the Belgian as the long-term gains are far greater than short-term risk.
‘I think now Eden is improving a lot and for sure he’s in contention for Atletico Madrid,’ he added.
‘After a bad injury and surgery you need time. He’s almost ready to play but if I make this decision it will be because I’m comfortable with it.
‘I think we are managing him very well. Other players are also very important for us and now it’s important to be sure he’s ready.’