Chelsea sailed through to Champions League knockout stages with a 2-1 win over Dinamo Zagreb at Stamford Bridge.
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In their first fixture since Halloween, the hosts were given an early fright when Bruno Petkovic capitalized on some poor defending, but goals from Raheem Sterling and Denis Zakaria ensured Graham Potter’s men finished as group winners.
It could have been more too as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Conor Gallagher and Mason Mount all went close, but the Blues were good value for their win in a dominant display.
The shock of falling behind certainly sparked the hosts into life on a dreary winter evening as Chelsea turned the game on its head in the space of 12 minutes through two well-taken finishes, ensuring they ended the group stages top of the pile.
Chelsea’s defending for the opening goal was frankly abysmal. The home side might have conceded one or two more against more clinical opposition with defending that was a little on the generous side at times.
Manager rating (out of 10, 10 = best)
Graham Potter, 7 — Opted for a change of shape that paid dividends as his side completely dominated, at least beyond the opening ten minutes. He did everything he could to rally his troops in a positive manner from the sidelines.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 60 minutes get no rating)
GK Edouard Mendy, 6 — Let down by static defending as the hosts fell behind but beyond that he was rarely troubled. He distributed the ball well to trigger a quick Chelsea counterattack and got down well to make a smart stop from Bosko Sutalo’s downward header.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 6 — Appeared to have no idea where Arijan Ademi was which meant the ball ended up bobbling into that fatal central area. Unsurprisingly it took few risks after that, but he was caught stranded upfield which allowed Zagreb to counter.
DF Trevoh Chalobah, 4 — Caught ball watching as the visitors stunned the Blues inside seven minutes. He almost cost his side another when he conceded a corner, from which he was then beaten in the air.
DF Kalidou Koulibaly, 5 — Tried to put off Petkovic with a half-hearted challenge at best but it was too far too late. Close to redeeming himself when he gave Ben Chilwell’s cross just over.
DF Ben Chilwell, 6 — Probably didn’t show enough desire to stop the cross as Zagreb went in front. Created the chance for Koulibaly with an inviting corner. Later chopped inside of his man beautifully but could only strike his cross into a white shirt.
M.F. Mason Mount, 8 — Hustled and harried all night and caused Zagreb plenty of problems. He started the move that led to the equalizer when the visitors failed to deal with his cross, which was flicked into the feet of Sterling by Aubameyang. He went close with a whipped free-kick.
FM Jorginho, 7 — A composed display in the middle of the park. Did the simple things well and dictated position. Found Mount in a good area with a through-ball that wasn’t his cleanest but found its target.
FM Denis Zakaria, 7 — Smashed Chelsea ahead with a well-struck effort from the edge of that box. So easy to sky those as Sterling had shown earlier, but the midfielder caught it sweetly meaning the shot stayed low and had too much fizz for Sadegh Moharrami to clear.
FW Kai Havertz, 8 — Carved through the visiting defense multiple times. Picked out Sterling from what seemed an impossible position with a ridiculous cross into the box before finding the same man again with another pinpoint cross.
F.W. Raheem Sterling, 8 — Twice blazed horribly over the bar and twice after brilliant work from Kai Havertz, but he was otherwise unplayable and showed superb feet to squeeze past a couple of challenges and slot the ball into the bottom corner.
FW Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 7 — Grabbed a classy assist with a neat backheel to unleash Sterling and almost doubled the Blues’ advantage with a curling effort that shook the bar.
DF Thiago Silva, 6 –Mr Reliable. His arrival of him was practically celebrated by the home crowd, who would have been euphoric had his late header of him been the other side of the post.
FM Conor Gallagher, 6 — Replaced Havertz. He prevented a tap-in by a last-ditch clearance and tested the wrists of the goalkeeper with a blasted effort from close range.
MF Ruben Loftus-Cheek, NR — Replaced goalscorer Zakaria who limped down the tunnel looking a little worse for wear. He hammered his best chance into the stands.
FW Armando Broja, 6 — Replaced Aubameyang but didn’t really have a sniff.
FW Christian Pulisic, NR — Replaced the electric Sterling. Created another chance for Mount to pull the trigger when he was taken out deep in Zagreb territory.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism