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.
Yet 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.
“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.”