Chelsea ended the Champions League group stage undefeated but had to settle for a draw against Krasnodar at Stamford Bridge.
Despite having the better of the game in terms of possession and territory, we couldn’t find a way through our Russian opponents for a winner during a frustrating second half and had to be wary of Krasnodar’s constant threat on the break.
Indeed, it was the visitors who took the lead in the first half when Cesar Azpilicueta found himself outnumbered three-on-one at right-back and Krasnodar worked the ball quickly to Remy Cabella, who finished accurately into the bottom corner.
We were only behind for a matter of minutes, though, as Tammy Abraham was clattered in the box when he looked poised to pull the trigger, allowing Jorginho to equalise nervelessly from the penalty spot.
However, despite plenty of effort to find a winner, we had to be content with a draw against stubborn opponents.
With top spot in Group E already guaranteed, Frank Lampard took the opportunity to give some players a well-earned rest while giving others an opportunity to impress, with Kai Havertz the only player who started the 3-1 win over Leeds in the line-up again.
However, the German took up a more advanced position, in a front three alongside Tammy Abraham and Tino Anjorin, who was rewarded for his impressive performances for our Academy with his full Chelsea debut, just two weeks after his 19th birthday. He had previously made two substitute appearances for the first team, both last season.
Lampard had already revealed two of his other eye-catching changes ahead of time, as Kepa Arrizabalaga in goal for only the second time since Edouard Mendy made his debut in September, and Billy Gilmour made his first start since suffering a serious knee injury in July.
Gilmour was joined in midfield by Mateo Kovacic and Jorginho, the latter maintaining his record of starting all our Champions League fixtures this season.
The back four was the same as the one which kept a clean sheet as we beat Sevilla 4-0 in our last European game, meaning Cesar Azpilicueta returned as captain.
The 2,000 Chelsea fans watching Champions League football at Stamford Bridge for the first time since February made themselves heard right from the start, with a round of applause as the players took a knee in support of equality and a loud roar for kick-off followed by a chorus of ‘Super Frank’ echoing around the stadium.
Those on the pitch in blue seemed just as eager to make their presence felt early on and there were signs that Krasnodar might struggle against our high press, as Mateo Kovacic and Kai Havertz both came close to pressuring the defence into costly errors.
It was Billy Gilmour who had the first effort on goal, finding space to receive the ball 30-yards out and powering in a shot, but Tammy Abraham didn’t have time to get out of the way and the shot cannoned off the striker and out for a corner.
Havertz continued to look sharp following his spell out, with one no-look volleyed pass to play in Cesar Azpilicueta in particular leaving the fans purring, and it seemed he could be the one to make something happen as we dominated possession in the opening 15 minutes.
However, when they did get the ball, Krasnodar were looking dangerous. There were two warnings as Kepa Arrizabalaga could watch powerful efforts from Tony Vilhena and Viktor Claesson wide of the target, but they weren’t heeded and the Russians took the lead.
Azpilicueta found himself outnumbered down our right and after Krasnodar played a neat triangle around our skipper the ball was worked to Remy Cabella in the box. The former Newcastle United midfielder showed plenty of composure to place the ball right in the corner, leaving Kepa with no chance.
We were only behind for four minutes, though, and it was our pressure on Krasnodar’s defence that paid off. Gilmour got in quickly to win the ball in transition just outside the box, allowing Kovacic to roll a pass into the path of Tammy Abraham.
As the striker turned to receive it, he was clearly blocked and brought to ground by Kaio, and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot.
With Timo Werner on the bench, Jorginho was back on penalty duties, and he made it look easy as he followed his familiar skip by sending the goalkeeper the wrong way and placing his shot right in the corner.
We nearly had the lead just moments later, this time Havertz sliding a pass through to Abraham after Andreas Christensen had won a brave header in the middle of the pitch, but the angle was narrowing as he tried to take it wide of the keeper and he couldn’t get his shot on target.
Perhaps due to there being nothing on the line beyond pride and reputation for either set of players, it continued to be a very open match, with both teams happy to commit bodies forward to attack when in possession.
That resulted in more efforts from the edge of the box by Kovacic and Gilmour, while there was danger at the other end as Igor Smolnikov beat Toni Rudiger to a crossfield pass, but his touch let him down and Kepa collected the ball comfortably.
Youngsters settle in
After a quiet start, Tino Anjorin seemed to be getting comfortable and growing in confidence, roaming from his spot on the left to find space and combine well with Gilmour and Havertz. His vision and habit of catching defenders out by playing the unexpected pass was soon being demonstrated for the Bridge fans, who were giving him the kind of backing you would expect for a young Academy graduate making his full debut.
Similarly, Gilmour was as unphased by the occasion or the opponents on his return to the first team as he was during his breakthrough last season and Havertz wasn’t showing any ill effects from his spell out with Covid-19.
The last action of the first half fell to Havertz, as he stood poised over a free-kick just outside of the box on the left-hand side, but despite getting plenty of curl on his effort he couldn’t keep it down and the referee blew for the break as it looped over the bar.
The same pattern continued after the break as our two 19-year-olds combined for the first effort of the second half, as Gilmour found Anjorin on the left edge of the box, and he sidestepped to try and curl an effort towards the far post, but it was blocked and Abraham was narrowly beaten to the resulting corner six-yards out.
Krasnodar hadn’t lost any of their threat either, though, and it took a good block from Cesar Azpilicueta to thwart Cristian Ramirez at the end of an incisive passing move from the visitors.
Abraham was next to try his luck, but he couldn’t get his header on target from a difficult position following Jorginho’s cross from deep. Kovacic likewise wasn’t able to control an awkward volley from an Emerson delivery.
The game was now more even in terms of possession. We still had the territorial advantage, but were struggling to create a clear chance against our Russian opponents, as Havertz had another effort from outside the box blocked after a nice interchange between the German, Kovacic and Gilmour.
We couldn’t relax at the back either, with Krasnodar continuing to break with speed at any opportunity, and Kepa had to get down low to his right and push one bouncing effort around the post after Jorginho had lost the ball in midfield.
When our clear chance did arrive it was via a mistake, as Ramirez’s sloppy touch in the box was seized upon by Abraham, although he couldn’t beat keeper Evgeni Gorodov at his near post.
Abraham continued to scrap for every ball but there was a hint of frustration starting to appear for Chelsea when Emerson flashed a cross out of play and Havertz ran out of space as he tried to capitalise on an excellent through pass from Anjorin.
That proved to be Havertz's last involvement, as Lampard sent on N'Golo Kante and Timo Werner in an effort to find a route to goal. Mateo Kovacic was the other to make way, and that was soon followed by Olivier Giroud coming on for Anjorin as we entered the last 10 minutes.
Between those two substitutions, Werner nearly made an instant impact, as he drove into the left channel taking the ball to the byline and drove a low cross along the face of goal, but it was agonisingly out of reach for Abraham at the back post.
We never gave up on a winner, as shown by the growing frustration of the Chelsea players with the referee and Krasnodar’s efforts to wind down the clock in the closing stages, but despite the substitutions we couldn’t find a route to goal as the visitors dropped deeper and deeper.
However, while we may not have finished the group stage with a win, there was still plenty to be pleased with as we extended our unbeaten run to 17 matches, not including penalties, plus Gilmour and Havertz continued their return to full fitness, along with a promising first start for teenager Anjorin.
That's it for the Champions League until 2021, but the busy December domestic schedule continues with back-to-back evening away trips in the Premier League, at Everton on Saturday and Wolverhampton Wanderers four days later.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Rudiger, Christensen, Emerson; Gilmour, Jorginho, Kovacic (Kante 74); Havertz (Werner 74), Abraham, Anjorin (Giroud 81)
Subs: Caballero, Ziger, Zouma, Tomori, Alonso, Chilwell, James, Mount, Pulisic
Scorer: Jorginho pen 28
Booked: Azpilicueta 82
Krasnodar (4-3-3): Gorodov; Smolnikov, Martynovich (c), Kaio (Sorokin 74), Ramirez; Olsson (Kambolov 80), Cabella (Suleymanov 80), Vilhena; Wanderson (Chernov 80), Berg (Markov 90), Claesson
Subs: Sinitsin, Utkin, Chernikov, Petrov
Scorer: Cabella 24
Referee: Pavel Kralovec