Chelsea’s Champions League group stage campaign ended in victory courtesy of debutant Denis Zakaria.
Chelsea vs Dinamo Zagreb result
It finished 2-1 to the Blues at a sodden Stamford Bridge with all the goals coming before half-time. Our Croatian visitors took the lead early on through Bruno Petkovic’s close-range header, but we were back on level terms by the midway point of the half, Raheem Sterling coolly finishing for his fifth of the season.
The highlight of the evening arrived on the half-hour. A low Mason Mount cross fell to Zakaria, 16 yards out, and his shot had enough power to find the net despite the best efforts of the defender on the line. Having had to wait so long to play his first game, the Swiss international was understandably thrilled.
Once we had gone in front our lead was scarcely in danger, with the best opportunities for a fourth goal of the game coming Chelsea’s way. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the bar, Kai Havertz went close on a couple of occasions and subs Thiago Silva and Conor Gallagher missed very good late chances.
Ultimately it mattered not with progression and first place in Group E already secured. The only blot on the evening was a late injury to Ben Chilwell, who pulled up in stoppage time clutching the back of his thigh. We await the severity of that, as well as our next opponents in this competition. The draw for the last 16 is on Monday morning.
Graham Potter made seven changes, the most notable of which was handing Zakaria a Chelsea debut.
Having picked up a foot injury at Brighton and been ruled out of our first ever home game against Croatian opposition, Kepa was replaced by Edouard Mendy in goal.
Kalidou Koulibaly returned having missed the past three games through injury, and there were also starts for Cesar Azpilicueta, Jorginho and Aubameyang. Mount, Sterling and Havertz all kept their place from the defeat at Brighton.
Early blows exchanged
Needing a win to keep their European hopes alive, the visitors started purposefully and went ahead with their first attack of note. A cross from the right was inadvertently headed back across his own six-yard box by Azpilicueta, leaving Petkovic with the simple task of nodding past Mendy.
That was in the seventh minute and ten later, the Blues were level. Sterling had already signalled his threat, volleying a wide cross from Havertz over Dominik Livakovic’s bar. He made no such mistake with his second attempt of a wet night in SW6.
Jorginho’s pass in Aubameyang’s direction was partially intercepted and then not dealt with by a dithering Dinamo rearguard, allowing Sterling to collect the loose ball, take two touches to create a yard of space and bend a low left-footed shot into the bottom corner. His fifth goal of the season was his first since Potter’s opening night in charge, six weeks and eight appearances ago.
After a muted quarter-hour, the goal sprung us into life, and we began to assert our dominance. Koulibaly, having shaken off an earlier knock, headed a corner over, and then Sterling half-volleyed off target from Havertz’s inviting centre.
Cranking up the pressure would pay dividends on the half-hour. Sterling and Mount exchanged passes down the right flank and the latter got to the byline before trying to pick out Havertz in the middle. A touch took it away from the German but only as far as Zakaria, lurking dangerously just inside the box. He powerfully placed his shot past Livakovic, and despite the best efforts of Sadegh Moharrami on the line, the ball found its way in.
There was no hiding the smiles of Zakaria, his team-mates and the Chelsea supporters!
Chelsea’s fluid front three of Sterling, Havertz and Aubameyang continue to press and probe, aided by the forward runs of the deeper Mount and Zakaria, but overall the intensity of the contest slowed as the interval approached, much of the action taking place in the middle third.
Chances at both ends
With Salzburg trailing to AC Milan at the break, Zagreb’s hopes remained alive. They came out for the second period buoyed, winning an early corner that Josip Sutalo headed on target. Mendy did well to parry it to safety.
The Blues responded in kind. From a corner of our own, Trevoh Chalobah’s header was blocked, and as we kept the pressure up Aubameyang cut inside and rattled the crossbar from the corner of the box.
Havertz then twice went close to extending our advantage, thwarted by a combination of good defending and goalkeeping. Either side of the hour, Ben Chilwell crashed a shot into the side-netting and Mount was denied by a block, after which Potter made a triple substitution. On came Thiago Silva, Conor Gallagher and Armando Broja. Koulibaly, Havertz and Aubameyang exited, perhaps with Sunday in mind.
Our next changed was enforced, Zakaria hobbling off to a standing ovation and plenty of high fives as he walked back to the dugouts the long way round. Twenty minutes remained.
Going close to a third
As the rain and wind intensified it was Chelsea who finished the stronger. A Mount free-kick needed tipping over by Livakovic and the visiting keeper stayed big to stop Gallagher’s shot on the angle from hitting the net.
Another sub, Thiago Silva, was furious with himself for not making 3-1 when he got on the end of Chilwell’s inswinging free-kick but miskicked when surely anything on target would have beaten Livakovic.
The same could be said for Gallagher’s stoppage-time chance, from Christian Pulisic’s pass, and this time Livakovic was called into action to keep out the point-blank shot.
With Chilwell off injured, we cleared a couple of late crosses to get over the line and return to winning ways ahead of a mouthwatering London derby this weekend.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Mendy; Azpilicueta (c), Chalobah, Koulibaly (Thiago Silva 65), Chilwell; Mount, Jorginho, Zakaria (Loftus-Cheek 71); Sterling (Pulisic 83), Havertz (Gallagher 64), Aubameyang (Broja 64).
Unused subs Bettinelli, Cucurella, Ziyech.
Scorers Sterling 18, Zakaria 30
Booked Koulibaly 39
Dinamo Zagreb (3-4-2-1): Livakovic; Ristovski (Emreli 70), Sutalo, Peric; Moharrami, Misic, Ademi (c) (Bulat 83), Ljubicic; Ivanusec, Orsic (Spikic 89); Petkovic (Drmic 83).
Unused subs Nevistic, Stefulj, Theophile-Catherine, Marin, Bockaj, Lauritsen, Baturina, Menalo, Spikic.
Scorer Petkovic 7
Booked Ivanusec 54, Moharrami 89
Referee Francois Letexier from France
Chelsea v Dinamo Zagreb Champions League table
You can view the Champions League table here.
What time are Chelsea v Dinamo Zagreb highlights available?
Match highlights from this game will be available from midnight UK time on matchday on chelseafc.com and The 5th Stand app.
Chelsea fixtures - what's next?
The Blues are back at the Bridge this weekend for a big London derby against Arsenal, currently sitting top of the Premier League table.
Next fixture: Chelsea vs Arsenal
Date: Sunday 6 November 2022
Kick-off time: 12pm UK time
Location: Stamford Bridge