Chelsea winners and losers after dreadful start to Champions League campaign
DINAMO ZAGREB 1-0 CHELSEA: Dinamo Zagreb defied the odds by beating Chelsea in their Champions League opener with Thomas Tuchel cut a frustrated figure throughout the game
Chelsea’s Champions League campaign got off to the worst possible start as they were beaten 1-0 at Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday night.
The pressure is pilling on Thomas Tuchel after the Blues’ stuttering start and they didn’t do themselves any favours with their performance in the Croatian capital. Despite a bright start, Chelsea fell behind in the 13th minute courtesy of an excellent solo finish from Mirslav Orsic, who capitalised on a mistake before dinking the ball over Kepa.
The Blues dominated possession throughout but weren’t able to create a clear-cut chance until after half-time. That came when Hakim Ziyech came inside onto his left foot but he was unable to beat Dominik Livakovic.
Reece James then went the closest for Tuchel’s side as he struck the post with 12 minutes to play, before Ziyech should’ve equalised but Livakovic produced a fine stop to deny him. Chelsea huffed and puffed but were unable to break down a stubborn Dinamo defence who defended superbly on the night as they began their Champions League campaign with three points.
Here are the winners and losers from Chelsea’s first European game of the season.
Chelsea’s defence has been questioned at times this season, with the Blues keeping just one clean sheet in their opening six Premier League matches. But that didn’t improve in Croatia, with Wesley Fofana and Kalidou Koulibaly at fault for Zagreb’s goal. Although their defensive record has been poor with Silva in the side, the Blues haven’t been opened up that easily so far, especially on the counter attack.
A reason why that could have been was the absence of Thiago Silva, who usually commands the centre of the back three and usually reads the game superbly. Fofana hasn’t played in the middle before, and wasn’t sure whether to go or whether to stay for duels.
In that case, he should’ve stayed and it made Silva look even more important due to his experience and knowhow when defending. Tuchel decided to rest Silva for the trip to Zagreb.
It has been a nightmare nine months for Ben Chilwell since suffered a serious knee injury in the Champions League against Juventus back in November 2021. But the 24-year-old returned to the Chelsea starting XI for just the second time since that setback as he began as the left-wing back in the Blues’ defeat in Zagreb.
Chilwell earned himself a start after scoring and notching an assist in their comeback win over West Ham United and he showed the same attacking intensity in this one, despite not grabbing any returns. He got forward to support Raheem Sterling on the left in the first-half, before almost setting up Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang at the start of the second period, but Chilwell was deemed to be offside.
It will be a major confidence booster for Chilwell as he slowly tries to return to full fitness, with Marc Cucurella starting the previous five matches in his place. He was taken off after 70 minutes, with the former Brighton full-back coming on in his absence.
There was a lot of talk around the fee Chelsea paid for Fofana after he completed the £70m move from Leicester City last week. Fofana was desperate to make the switch, but it is safe to say he hasn’t made the brightest start to his time at the Blues after he made a mistake leading to Zagreb’s opening goal – following up a below-par debut against West Ham on Saturday.
Fofana was caught napping as Bruno Petkovic flicked on a long ball on towards Orsic, who nipped in and drove towards goal. He managed to out pace Fofana, before producing a fine finish with the outside of his foot.
It was a poor piece of defending from the Frenchman, who pushed up too far, left too much space behind him and then didn’t have the speed to get back.
As the game wore on, Fofana did show his qualities in possession and kept the game ticking. But his performance will be remembered for his error as Zagreb took the lead.
It was yet another frustrating evening for Havertz, who has been criticised by sections of the Chelsea fan base for his lack of goals this season. He has been used as the central striker for their first six league matches, but has struck just one goal in the meantime.
Could it spell the end for Havertz in Tuchel’s starting XI? He has previously played as a no.10 and as a winger for Chelsea, but was ineffective against Dinamo, struggling to create or get opportunities for himself.
In an attempt to turn the game on its head, Tuchel decided to hook Cesar Azpilicueta at half-time. It is the second time he’s been taken off after 45 minutes this season, while the Spaniard has only completed 90 once – that came in the opening day win at Everton where there was no Fofana and Cucurella had only signed two days before.
When the Blues needed to change something, he was sacrificed once again as Hakim Ziyech came on in his place with Tuchel moving to a back four. With Azpilicueta now 33, it is unlikely that his minutes will improve amid rumours linking him with a move to Barcelona in the summer.