Fabregas admits he feared for his Chelsea career before winning over Antonio Conte

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Cesc Fabregas speaks during a press conference.

Cesc Fabregas feared the end of his Chelsea career before he proved Antonio Conte wrong.

The 30-year-old Spain playmaker has won almost every major honour in his storied career with Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea and Spain, including the World Cup — but the European Cup is the exception.

Fabregas was initially out of favour last season in Conte’s first campaign. He had made only four appearances at this stage last year; this season it is 18 after he showed his worth.

“Well, I would be lying if I say that I wasn’t worried,” said Fabregas, speaking ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League Group C clash with Atletico Madrid.

“I wasn’t playing, I wasn’t really part of his (Conte’s) initial plans and at that point you can do two things.

“You can just give up and accept you are not going to be part of the team or the club in the future. The other is what I did, put your head down and be humble, show him that he’s wrong.

“My relationship with the manager (now) is fantastic. He trusts me. He knows exactly what I can give to the team.”

The Blues secured their place in the last 16 by winning at Qarabag last month and can finish top with victory over Atletico at Stamford Bridge.

“Hopefully it will be Chelsea’s year (in the Champions League),” added Fabregas, who reached the 2006 final with Arsenal and has also reached the semi-finals.

“We’ll try our best to be consistent enough to reach the final and hopefully win.”

Atletico need to win to have any chance to advance, but are reliant on Qarabag avoiding defeat at Roma to reach the draw on December 11.

If the Azerbaijan side are beaten, Atletico would fall into the Europa League, irrespective of the result at Chelsea.

Asked if that would provide additional satisfaction, given the saga surrounding Diego Costa which saw the striker return after three years at Stamford Bridge, Conte was evasive.

The Italian, who is again without defender David Luiz (knee), said: “I think we must have great respect for Atletico Madrid and for the whole team, not only for one, two, three players.

Diego Simeone

Diego Simeone’s team must beat Chelsea away and need Roma to draw or lose against Qarabag

“If the whole team after (Tuesday’s) game has to play Europa League, it can happen.”

Costa will be eligible to play for Atletico from January, when their transfer embargo is lifted.

Left-back Filipe Luis, who spent the 2014-15 campaign at Chelsea before returning to Atletico, said: “It is frustrating seeing him playing like an animal (in training), but he can’t play.”

Boss Diego Simeone insists Atletico’s sole focus will be on beating Chelsea.

“We don’t have to be looking about what happens in Rome,” Simeone said.

“We just have to think about us. It’s a personal challenge to fight for everything we’ve worked for these last few years.”​

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Chelsea v Atletico Madrid talking points: Two of a kind Hazard and Griezmann clash

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Chelsea head into their final Group C game in the Champions League with Atletico Madrid in top spot.

A win for the Blues at Stamford Bridge will guarantee them top spot.

Here are a few talking points ahead of the encounter.

IS WINNING OVER-RATED?

In a peculiar way, it may not be in either teams’ interests to go all-out for three points on Tuesday night. Atletico need nothing less than a win if they are to have any hope of qualification but is that really what they want?

Of course, the financial implications of advancing from the group stages of the Champions League make it more than worth their while but in terms of achieving success this season, elimination may not be the worst thing for their campaign.

Atletico have struggled to find their best form this season but so have Barcelona and Real Madrid. A recent turn in results has seen them edge closer to the Catalans in the La Liga race, one they’re capable of winning if it gets their full attention.

It’s hard to envisage Diego Simeone’s side winning the Champions League given their flaws but run in the league if left unimpeded by continental distractions, is achievable.

Meanwhile, should Chelsea win and top the group, their potential opponents in the next round include Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus or Sporting Lisbon, Sevilla, Porto or Leipzig. Maybe being runners-up isn’t all that bad.

HAZARD AND GRIEZMANN ARE TWO OF A KIND

The last time these two sides met, Eden Hazard was making only his second start since returning from injury and Antoine Griezmann was in a patchy run of form at best. While both made contributions on the night, they have stepped it up since, and have started to return to their best.

Several similarities can be drawn to the two attackers. Both are diminutive, possess phenomenal bursts of acceleration, excellent touch and close control and a penchant for goal-scoring. They’re also incredibly intelligent and creative.

Hazard’s recent change in position to playing just off the striker has only extended the comparison between the two with the Frenchman also doing his best work operating behind another centre foward.

With the two clashing once more, it will be interesting to see which one comes out on top now that they’re back to their old selves.

Back to his best: Eden Hazard

Back to his best: Eden Hazard

CHELSEA LOOK TO BURST ATLETICO’S BUBBLE.. AGAIN

In the earlier fixture at the Metropolitano, Chelsea snatched a 2-1 victory as Michy Batshuayi scored the winner in the 94th minute.

That ended Atletico’s 11-match unbeaten run. Since then, they’ve gone 13 games unbeaten and will be heading into this meeting with the Blues with a hint of trepidation. The fact that they are yet to score away from home in the Champions League this season doesn’t bode well for them either.

Simeone’s side have only just begun to get their mojo back and a defeat now could do some serious damage to their confidence.

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Mourinho holds all the cards: United talking points ahead of CSKA clash

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Manchester United will hope to follow their crucial 3-1 win away to Arsenal with a positive result against CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

The visitors will need a win or draw and hope that the result from FC Basel’s clash with Benfica goes their way as well if they are to progress from Group A and make the Champions League round of 16.

Here are a few talking points ahead of the encounter.

OLD TRAFFORD FORTRESS

Louis van Gaal laid the foundation and brick by brick, Jose Mourinho has rebuilt Old Trafford’s aura since. A fortress once decimated during David Moyes’ brief spell has been restored to its former glory.

It’s taken time but Mourinho instilled in United an air of invincibility while playing on home soil, much like he did at Chelsea when they took to the pitch at Stamford Bridge.

Avoid defeat against CSKA, and United will have matched a club record 40 successive home games unbeaten in all competitions. With the Manchester Derby to take centre stage at the Theatre of Dreams over the weekend, such a record would hold the Red Devils in good stead.

MOURINHO HOLDS ALL THE CARDS

Despite the defeat to Basel in the previous group game, United head into this fixture in pole position. Barring an unlikely defeat of huge margins and specifically unfortunate sequence of results, Mourinho’s men will take their place in the next round of the competition.

The hosts can play with freedom with that in mind and will also have their best player in Paul Pogba lead them out as his red card against Arsenal rules him out of the derby on Sunday and the two following Premier League games.

Meanwhile, while coming into the game off the back of a 6-0 win against Tosno, will be without their key men as Pontus Wernbloom and Bibras Natcho both serve one-game bans while Alexei Berezutski has a broken leg.

Wernbloom’s absence will be a big blow with creativity in short supply in the CSKA ranks. Much will rest on Brazlian forward Vitinho is the visitors are going to pull off an unlikely win.

Paul Pogba

Paul Pogba

PLAYING TIME

With qualification virtually in the bag and winning the group not deemed as important given the quality of opposition destined to finish runners-up in the group stages and placed in Pot 2, Mourinho has the opportunity to rest a few players.

Tuesday’s game also gives him the chance to hand a few others some much-needed playing time. Luke Shaw is one who is perpetually being denied minutes on the pitch while Phil Jones who has been the team’s defensive stalwart has returned to training. Will he be given a run out ahead of the derby on Sunday?

With Pogba now likely to feature, another midfielder can be afforded a rest while it will be interesting to see if Mourinho persists with Romelu Lukaku or plays Marcus Rashford up front instead to give the Belgian some time off.

Much of his selection will be made with one eye on the derby as United seek to cut Manchester City’s eight-point lead at the top to five on Sunday.

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