Chelsea beat Dinamo Zagreb as Graham Potter receives January transfer budget boost


    Chelsea bounced back from their calamitous 4-1 Premier League defeat at Brighton by taking care of business professionally in their Champions League dead rubber against Dinamo Zagreb, as they ran out 2-1 victors at Stamford Bridge. The Blues had already sealed top spot in Group E heading into the contest but Graham Potter named a star-studded starting XI in an attempt to salvage some confidence ahead of the visit of Arsenal on Sunday.

    Chelsea, who won this competition in 2021 under Thomas Tuchel, were behind inside seven minutes when Bruno Petkovic headed the visitors in front following a well-worked move but the response was impressive from the Blues, who were soon level nine minutes later through Raheem Sterling.

    New signing Denis Zakaria then added a second to put the hosts ahead when he steered home from a cutback on his first appearance for Chelsea since signing on loan from Juventus on transfer deadline day. He was largely excellent in midfield as he seeks to give Potter something to think about in the final two Premier League matches before the mid-season break.

    Striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rattled the crossbar in the second half with a fine curling effort as Chelsea seeked to double their advantage but they were able to see the game out with ease on a night that was somewhat marred by Ben Chilwell’s hamstring injury in the final minutes of the match that could now unfortuately wreck his World Cup dream.

    Express Sport analyses the key talking points from a wet and windy night at Stamford Bridge as Champions League football now takes a backseat until February…

    Potter earns January budget boost

    Graham Potter will welcome this much-needed victory for more reasons than one after Chelsea banked £9.6million in Champions League prize money to bolster their January transfer kitty.

    Qualification for the last 16 alone was worth a lucrative £8.2m sum and Chelsea had already made sure of that with the 2-1 win over Red Bull Salzburg in Austria last week.

    However, the Blues will also receive an additional £1.4m for Wednesday’s win over Dinamo which is the figure every club nets for each Champions League victory – regardless of its importance and impact on potential qualification.

    It’s a welcome bonus for co-owner Todd Boehly, who is highly anticipated to back his new head coach when the market opens in January with further reinforcements despite a £270m splurge this summer that was masterminded by former boss Thomas Tuchel before his emotional departure.

    A midfielder is understood to be of priority to Potter while some additional cover in defence could also be on the agenda given Chelsea have been scraping the barrel in that department in recent weeks due to a series of injuries.

    Denis Zakaria transfer now blocked after debut goal

    Denis Zakaria made the perfect statement – netting Chelsea’s second goal – on his first appearance for the Blues in midfield since completing his deadline day loan switch from Italian giants Juventus, where he was deemed surplus to requirements just seven months after joining from Borussia Monchengladbach.

    The eleventh-hour transfer had previously been backed by the now-sacked Tuchel but the Swiss failed to feature before the German’s dismissal which came after the 1-0 defeat to Dinamo in the return fixture on match day one in Croatia.

    Zakaria has since suffered similarly following the appointment of Potter but the Chelsea head coach has been full of praise for his attitude and commitment on the training field at Cobham, in his bid to turn things around. For that reason, the former Brighton tactician has remained confident there is a place for Zakaria at Stamford Bridge.

    His first outing in blue was actually of extra significance though as it now means the athletic box-to-box midfielder cannot join another club in January having now featured for both Juve and Chelsea this season in official matches.

    Despite a wretched start to the campaign, Juventus appear unlikely to recall their £4.3million acquisition meaning he is now expected to remain with Chelsea for the remainder of the season as he looks to overcome a challenging start to life in west London.

    Potter said prior to his side’s final Champions League match in Group E: “As I’ve said before, he’s been really good, he’s trained well, supported his teammates. Obviously disappointed not to play like everybody is but up until the weekend results have been positive, performances, we’ve been trying to take steps. He’s in the frame tomorrow, he’s in the squad, he’s available for selection so we’ll wait and see.”

    In addition to his fine, well-taken finish, Zakaria caught the eye with his industry in the middle of the park and his application could not be questioned. In the opening exchanges of his debut, he made an excellent lung-busting run back into his own half to stop a Dinamo counter-attack and continued to put out fires all over the pitch, even dropping back into defence when required.

    Given the innovation and tactical flexibility of Potter, who has frequently changed systems, it would be a major surprise if he could not find a purpose for Zakaria at Chelsea even if there is an acceptance that he will not be first choice.

    Sulky Hakim Ziyech

    Hakim Ziyech has been longing for more frequent opportunities following the arrival of Potter having only made one start in the Premier League this season, which came in the 2-1 defeat to Southampton in late August.

    In his view, Wednesday’s clash with Dinamo could have been the perfect opening to make a statement in his quest for minutes but Chelsea boss Potter named a strong attacking line-up despite already tying up top spot in Group E with one match to spare.

    Ziyech was evidently frustrated with his omission following the conclusion of Chelsea’s pre-match warmup when he sulkily walked in last out of all of the Blues’ outfield players.

    Ajax were keen on bringing him back to Amsterdam in the final stretches of the summer transfer window but the deal proved to be out of their reach, much to the disappointment of the player. It is now hard to envisage his long-term future at Stamford Bridge.

    Raheem Sterling response

    Raheem Sterling issued a timely response to his recent critics by netting the equaliser for Chelsea as he turned in a lively performance in a central role alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in attack.

    The £47.5million summer signing’s effectiveness and lack of productivity has been thrown into question in recent weeks, particularly after the England international was dropped further back into a surprise wing-back role.

    Sterling had made an impressive start to his Chelsea career earlier in the campaign under Tuchel before hitting an alarming dip but his first-half strike was evidence he is grinding to put things right ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.

    Pundit and former Chelsea player Pat Nevin ruthlessly suggested Sterling’s place in the squad for Qatar was now under threat following the 4-1 defeat to Brighton last Saturday but it would be naive to think that was the case given his outstanding contribution at Euro 2020.

    It is blindingly obvious that Sterling is not playing his best football at the moment but it would be pure stupidity to write him off. He remains a constant live-wire and attacking threat even if his finishing still sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.

    Chilwell’s World Cup dream wrecked

    Although Chelsea will wait until the official medical report, Ben Chilwell’s chances of featuring at the World Cup now look to be in serious doubt after he suffered a hamstring injury in added time.

    The left-back’s performance was full of positivity but he was dealt a hammer blow in the final minutes of the match when he immediately clutched his left hamstring after attempting to evade an opponent.

    He was visibly upset when he laid down flat on his back on the turf before receiving assistance from the Chelsea medical staff.

    The immediate signs do not look good with fellow Blues full-back Reece James also now a major doubt for Qatar after he suffered a knee injury in the Champions League win at AC Milan.

    Thankfully for Chelsea, they have sufficient cover for the final two Premier League matches before Qatar with £63million summer signing Marc Cucurella fresh and ready to step in. He was an unused substitute tonight.


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