An early score by the Blues, with Timo Werner getting the first goal for the Blues by tapping in a corner kick two minutes after kick-off, would be a good way to set the tune of the rest of the match. Initially it seemed like somewhat of a return to form from the Blues, where we dominated chances while the hosts in Zenit St Petersburg, as much as they tried, could not make it through a strong defence made by the trio of Malang Sarr, Andreas Christensen and César Azpilicueta.
Speaking of lineup changes, there were several in Thomas Tuchel’s starting eleven. Kepa Arrizabalaga was between the posts, and the defensive flanks had Saúl and Callum Hudson-Odoi on the left and right sides, respectively. Our central midfielders were Ross Barkley (!) and Reece James (!!!), while the attacking trifecta had Timo Werner, Romelu Lukaku, and Mason Mount in charge.
Most fans would likely enjoy Chelsea having a bit more possession in the first half to extend their lead and be a bit more comfortable, since a one-goal lead is the slimmest one could have. But we also seemed comfortable in letting Zenit have the ball and let the clock run its course, all while keeping the work to defence and Kepa — who made a great intervention on a Malcom breakthrough to keep Zenit at bay.
Too bad Zenit started to believe the equaliser would come, as they got closer and closer to scoring a goal of their own. They eventually did it via Claudinho, following a massive defensive failure that let the Brazilian attacker free to attack the ball in the box.
A second would eventually come... but in favour of the hosts. A midfield giveaway and the failure to set up a proper offside trap by Christensen, had centre-forward Sardar Azmoun with a one-v-one against Kepa. He easily beat the shot-stopper to put the hosts in the lead.
Changes might have been needed by Chelsea to equalise and overturn the disadvantage in the scoreboard. Those would not come from the bench, but rather from the team attempting to keep more possession to themselves and work their way through a compact Zenit team.
We would find the breakthrough thanks to the combination of Barkley, Werner and Lukaku. The first two played a nice one-two to release the German striker freely into Zenit’s box, with Lukaku right behind him on the supporting run. The decision to follow Werner would bode well for the Belgian centre-forward, as he got himself in the scoreline with our second goal of the day.
Now back on a tie, Zenit would come out of their shell and get back to attacking. They kept forcing Kepa into working, but nothing was as egregious as their first half goalscoring chances.
But it was Chelsea who had the venom to get another goal, and thus earn the full three points out of St. Petersburg. A neat combination between Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic near the box, and the American winger finds a great pass to Werner in the box. The German clears his marker out of frame and puts a nice finish to set it at 3-2 to the Blues.
...or so we thought. A last-minute equaliser by Magomed Ozdoev put us back to square one.
- It is an almost entirely different lineup from the one that faced Juventus at the Bridge. The only player playing in both matches is Reece James — as a central midfielder!
- Subs are Christian Pulisic for Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech for Ross Barkley, Kai Havertz for Romelu Lukaku, and Marcos Alonso for Saúl Ñíguez.
- This central midfield pairing with Barkley and James might have been a nice idea on paper. In practice during the first half... oof.
- To be fair, things did improve as the game went on, especially on James’ side. Nice to have that option going forward!
- Kepa with the big saves to keep us alive in the game. Good on him, although ideally he would be just a bystander today.
- Saúl is on the pitch and he is not looking bad at left wing-back. Although he moved out of Atlético presumably to avoid playing out of central positions, the flank has been suiting him thus far.
- Next up: Leeds at Stamford Bridge, for the Premier League.