Chelsea’s poor form continued into the Champions League as lost to Croatian Champions Dinamo Zagreb. Zagreb produced a stellar performance in their own back yard, but as it was a frustrating evening in Croatia for Chelsea. They lacked any form of threat to break down the stubborn home defence, and now concerns over their performances have grown even more for fans.
Dinamo Zagreb: (5-4-1)
Livankovic, S.Ristovski, Moharrami, Sutalo, Peric, Ljubicic, Ademi ©, J.Misic, Ivanusec, Orsic, Petkovic
Substitutes: Zagorac, Lauritsen, Nevistic, Stefulj, Emreli, Bockaj, Marin, Baturina, Spikic, Drmic, Theophile-Catherine, Bulat
Kepa, James, Azpilicueta, Fofana, Koulibaly, Chilwell, Kovacic, Mount, Havertz, Aubameyang, Sterling
Bettinelli, Mendy, Chalobah, Cucurella, Chukwuemeka, Gallagher, Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho, Zakaria, Pulisic, Ziyech, Broja.
The home side lined up in a deep robust 5-4-1 formation. From kick-off it was clear Zagreb had every intention of hitting Chelsea on the counterattack as they allowed the Blues to have the ball and dominate possession.
Chelsea started on the front foot, with their first chance coming in the opening 6 minutes. Raheem Sterling was denied the first goal of the game following some lovely link-up play between Kai Havertz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Zagreb defender Stefan Ristovski provided an excellent block to deny the England International.
Minutes later, Aubameyang got away from the Dinamo defenders down the right-hand side, and saw his cross thwarted out for a corner. Mason Mount’s set-piece was flicked on by Havertz, but it did not trouble Zagreb keeper Dominik Livakovic.
Dinamo supporters soon had much more to be happy about than Chelsea’s. Mislav Orsic latched onto a loose ball forward from Bruno Petkovic. Kalidou Koulibaly had found himself out of position and so Wesley Fofana was left to catch the forward on his own. Orsic accelerated quickly away from Fofana, into the Chelsea penalty area. Orsic kept his composure and finished his chance with confidence with a flick past Kepa. Dinamo Zagreb took the lead. As the game went on, it became very clear that they were going to do everything in their power to hold onto it.
A high-pressing stubborn structure is what proved to be Chelsea’s undoing. Ante Cacic’s side only grew in confidence after finding the opening goal. They fashioned the better chances before half-time. The goal-scorer Orsic looked lively and full of energy, and narrowly fired a shot over the bar.
Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa was called into action, producing a spectacular save after a fierce 20-yard strike from Zagreb skipper Arijan Ademi.
Chelsea applied some pressure before the half-time whistle, though none of the forwards could get a shot away in the crowded penalty area.
At half-time, the home side had the lead, it was Dinamo Zagreb 1-0 Chelsea.
Tuchel made a change at half-time, but there was no change in his team’s play. Hakim Ziyech was introduced, as captain Cesar Azpilicueta made way for the attacking change.
Aubameyang had the ball in the back of the net after latching onto a lay-off from Ben Chilwell, but the left-wing back was offside in the build-up. Aubameyang’s dream start in Chelsea Blue had to be put on hold.
A change in system from Tuchel saw his defence change into a back 4, allowing James and Chilwell to overlap, but it then left Dinamo with the ability to find too much space in the final third. Ristovski almost exploited the extra space allowed by Chelsea, when he fired a shot from distance, forcing another fine save from Kepa.
Tuchel made further changes as he sent Jorginho and Armando Broja onto the field. Broja started to cause trouble for the Zagreb defence, but never overly challenged Dinamo goalkeeper Livakovic.
Chelsea were constantly changing their shape, and sent more attacking options into the fray, as Christian Pulisic and Marc Cucurella were also introduced. Ziyech and Broja were combining well for a short spell but failed to level the scoring.
Havertz came closest to scoring halfway into the second 45 but was denied by some outstanding defending from Zagreb left-back Robert Ljubicic, who timed his block to perfection.
Chelsea’s frustrations only grew as Dinamo Zagreb began to wind the clock down as the they entered the final quarter of the game. Reece James rattled the post with a left-footed attempt at goal in the latter stages.
8 minutes of time were added on, but the Blues failed to pose much threat as the clock ticked away. The Croatian side managed to hold on to secure a historic victory, winning 1-0. They condemned Chelsea to their third defeat away from home in 16 games in the Champions League.
Damage limitation happened to occur for Chelsea as RB Salzburg held AC Milan to a draw. Despite this, another lacklustre performance has raised massive amounts of concern for the Blues. Zagreb to their credit, performed exceptionally, but it is still no excuse for the West London side. Work needs to be done.