Cesar Azpilicueta believes an away game at Atletico Madrid is the perfect measure of the progress the team has made under Antonio Conte.
We make our first trip overseas in the Champions League since early 2016, travelling to the new home of one of the competition’s most consistent sides in recent years. Atletico were finalists in 2014 and 2016, reaching the semi-final last season, and Spaniard Azpilicueta is well aware of our hosts’ quality.
‘It’s difficult to see us as favourites at the moment, in the biggest competition in Europe,’ the vice-captain said. ‘We have been champions in recent years, reached the semi-final in 2014, but is too early to see ourselves as favourites and tomorrow is a good test to see our level.
‘Of course I consider them candidates to win the Champions League,’ he continued. ‘They reached the final in recent years, they fight to the end and have been together for a long time under the same manager. The block of the team has been respected, they know the way they play really well, they are improving and of course they are candidates.’
The Blues enter the game in good form, unbeaten since the opening day of the Premier League season and with a strong start to the European campaign, the 6-0 win against Qarabag at Stamford Bridge under our belt. Azpilicueta echoed Antonio Conte’s sentiment that we are in Madrid to win.
‘I expect to see a brave Chelsea tomorrow,’ said the defender. ‘We know we are facing a highly experienced team in the competition. After being one year away from Europe we want to do it right.
‘We know it’s complicated but we are going to try and get the three points, play our game and we know we have to play a perfect match in order to get them.’
There are five Spaniards in the Chelsea squad, and while Azpilicueta, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Marcos Alonso have each contributed well to our season so far, the name on everyone’s lips at the moment is Alvaro Morata, whose hat-trick at Stoke on Saturday was the perfect preparation for an away game at the city rivals of his former club. Azpilicueta has been impressed by our new No9.
‘I think he has adapted really well to our team, to the way we play. Since he came he has been a big part of the team, he has scored six goals and I am happy for him,’ said Azpilicueta. His work has been rewarded with goals, which is what strikers want most.’
The man Morata replaces in the squad, Diego Costa, is formalising his move to Atletico. His former team-mate wishes him well, and is thankful the forward will not be lining up against us at the Wanda Metropolitano.
‘I was lucky enough to have played with Diego Costa in both Chelsea and the national team,’ he said. ‘He has now decided to change so I can say best of luck to him. He was important for Chelsea while he was here but now he has decided to move on. Best of luck to him.
Not to play tomorrow with Diego in Atletico is better for us. As I said before, I have been playing with him for years, we are Spanish team-mates and he is a top striker.’