Frank Lampard’s men made the 2000 mile trip to Southern Russia a successful one with four goals and a clean sheet against Champions League debutants Krasnodar, but it wasn’t as simple as the score-line (or the opposition) may suggest.
With five changes from Saturday’s draw with Manchester United, the line-up saw a first Chelsea start for summer signing Hakim Ziyech, with Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mateo Kovacic and out of favour centre back Antonio Rudiger all returning to the starting eleven. Despite the changes, the blues fielded a stronger team than many were anticipating with German duo Timo Werner and Kai Havertz maintaining their places in the team.
Chelsea started on the front foot, with Ziyech going close inside ten minutes before Timo Werner won a penalty for the visitors, only for Jorginho to see his spot-kick strike the post. Despite the obvious intent, Chelsea looked sloppy in midfield – gifting possession to the hosts on multiple occasions and relying on the seemingly impenetrable Edouard Mendy to dig them out of more than a few holes. However it was Chelsea who eventually made the breakthrough in the 37th minute through Hudson-Odoi, who’s shot crept through the grasp of the young Russian goalkeeper who looked low on confidence throughout the night – a reality all Chelsea fans have been unfortunately used to in recent times.
The second Half saw a much improved Chelsea run riot in Russia. Frank switched to a 4-3-3 with two attacking 8’s in the form of Kai Havertz and substitute Mason Mount – a decision that breathed new life into a previously lacklustre and lethargic display. Driving runs from midfield and the introduction of Christian Pulisic meant the boys from the Bridge won their second penalty of the night when the American’s shot was blocked by the arm of Martynovich, with Timo Werner making no mistake from the spot by nearly taking the net off. After that, the floodgates opened, with Moroccan wizard bagging his first goal for Chelsea barely three minutes later, and Pulisic finishing the scoring with a fine effort through the keeper’s legs after some impressive and tenacious work from Tammy Abraham. An important win, another clean sheet for Mendy but the first half asked yet more questions of our Thiago Silva-less defence, and shone light on the lack of urgency displayed by the more defensive midfielders in the team.
The game showed both sides to what is admittedly an inconsistent Chelsea team. Moments of brilliance and a near perfect second half made up for what was in truth a sub-par first 45. The game also poses serious questions about our strongest 11 and best formation. Will we see Frank possibly using two attacking 8s against more defensive opposition and with an impressive half an hour stint, is N’golo Kante the man for the lone DM role? If nothing else, the trip to Russia was a much needed confidence boost, 3 points to take us to the top of our group and a reason to look forward to the weekend. Up the Chels.
2 Good 2 Bad
Good: Mendy. Just Mendy. A commanding and dominant display between the sticks for the new man and a fourth consecutive clean sheet. I don’t want to jinx it, but our goalkeeping troubles may be behind us.
Bad: Our sheer lack of urgency in midfield. The first half saw more sideways passes and slow decision making, meaning we were dispossessed way too often and made a second-rate team look like a real threat.
Good: Our new signings are proving their worth. Ziyech and Werner were frightening going forward, and Kai Havertz’s driving runs from midfield were a thing of sheer beauty, with the German really coming to life in an attacking 8 role. The formation change saw us pose much more of a threat and may well be the way forward when playing low-blocking teams in the future.
Bad: It’s hard to think of another one at this point. The defence looked shaky at times but nothing Thiago Silva can’t fix. It wasn’t Chilwell’s best game but he has already proven how much of an upgrade he is. Maybe Kovacic, who hasn’t looked himself this season so far, but i personally believe that is down to fatigue given the amount of game time he had in the last six weeks of the season. I don’t know, we won 4-0 in the Champions League, it’s hard to complain about really.
Mendy (8), Chilwell (6), Rudiger (6), Zouma (6), Azpi (7), Jorginho (6), Kovacic (6), Havertz (7), Ziyech (9), Hudson-Odoi (7), Werner (8).
Subs: Kante (6), Mount (7), Abraham (7), Pulisic (8), Emerson (6)
Man of the Match: Hakim Ziyech