Chelsea survived an early scare as they registered their 100th Champions League victory by coming from behind to beat Dinamo Zagreb 2-1.
Graham Potter’s side had already secured top spot in Group E before kick-off, but they head into the knock-out stages in style after winning four of their six matches.
It was the visitors who made the better start at Stamford Bridge though, taking a 7th minute lead when Bruno Petkovic nodded home the first chance of the game after Cesar Azpilicueta had inadvertently headed Sadegh Moharrami’s cross back into the danger zone.
That lead didn’t last long though, with Raheem Sterling equalising for the Blues ten minutes later as he grabbed his first goal in nine games, slotting into the bottom corner after receiving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s backheal in the box.
The England international should have put Chelsea ahead shortly afterwards when he scooped over on the half volley from close range, but it mattered not as Denis Zakaria, finally making his debut following a summer loan move from Juventus, found the bottom corner from near the penalty spot.
Edouard Mendy made a terrific save to keep the hosts ahead after the break, tipping Josip Sutalo’s powerful header around the post, but that was the closest Dinamo came to an equaliser.
Aubameyang nearly doubled the lead at the other end when rattling the bar from 20-yards, while Dominik Livakovic soon made a good stop to deny Kai Havertz.
Indeed, the visitors had their ‘keeper to thank for ensuring they were not beaten more heavily in the end, as he made two stunning stops late on, tipping a Mason Mount free-kick around the post before denying Conor Gallagher from point blank range.
TALKING POINT – STERLING FINDING FORM AT THE RIGHT TIME?
Raheem Sterling hasn’t had the best of times since his big money move to Chelsea from Manchester City in the summer, netting only four times in 16 appearances prior to tonight.
Indeed, he headed into this game on an eight match drought, and you could see the relief across his face after he had patiently bided his time before calmly slotting into the bottom corner to bring the Blues level.
England manager Gareth Southgate will no doubt have been watching somewhere, and with the World Cup just around the corner, he would have been pleased to see one of his key attacking forces put in a dynamic and confidence boosting performance.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Mason Mount (Chelsea). In another performance that will please the England manager, Mason Mount shone once more in a Chelsea shirt.
It’s fair to say that when the midfielder plays well, so do his team, and he made the Blues tick throughout at Stamford Bridge, often providing the vital link between defence and attack.
There were numerous occasions when the 23-year old regularly popped up in dangerous areas and was unlucky not to grab a goal with a superb free-kick, while he frequently showed his class with little flicks and turns that made it near impossible for Dinamo to get near him.
CHELSEA: Mendy 7; Azpilicueta 5, Koulibaly 6, Chalobah 6; Sterling 7, Jorginho 7, Zakaria 7, Chilwell 7; Mount 8, Aubameyang 7, Havertz 7. Subs: Silva 6, Gallagher 6, Broja 6, Loftus-Cheek 6, Pulisic 6
DINAMO ZAGREB: Livakovic 8; Peric 6, Ristovski 6, Sutalo 7; Moharrami 7, Ivanusec 6, Misic 6, Ademi 6, Ljubicic 6; Petkovic 7, Orsic 7. Subs: Emreli 6, Bulat n/a, Drmic n/a, Spikic n/a
7’ GOAL! CHELSEA 0-1 DINAMO (Petkovic) What a start for the visitors! They work the ball down the right hand side, from which Sadegh Moharrami sends a deep cross to the back post. Azpilicueta accidently heads it back across goal, and Petkovic nods home. 1-0!
18’ GOAL! CHELSEA 1-1 DINAMO (Sterling). That’s a wonderful bit of composure from the England international. Aubameyang’s deft backheal in the box finds Sterling, and he patiently waits for the gap to open up before slotting into the bottom corner. We’re all square again
29’ STERLING SCOOPS OVER. Oh dear. That’s a bit of a sitter, and, judging by the smile on his face, he knows it. The forward is in acres in space just outside the six yard box as he receives Havertz cross, but he fires over on the half volley
30’ GOAL! CHELSEA 2-1 DINAMO (Zakaria). Denis Zakaria celebrates his Chelsea debut with a goal! The ball falls to the midfielder near the penalty spot and he fires a shot towards the bottom corner. Dinamo desperately try to keep it out, but to no avail
52’ AUBAMEYANG RATTLES THE BAR. The Dinamo defence back off the striker, allowing him to cut in on that dangerous right foot and fizz a dangerous shot goalwards, only for the ball to rattle the bar and bounce away to safety
75’ SUPERB SAVE FROM LIVAKOVIC Mount stings the ‘keeper’s palms with a fizzing free-kick that is heading for the top corner before being expertly tipped over. That’s a top, top stop