Ziyech cameo sums up Chelsea’s dismal night
If there was a moment to sum up Chelsea’s miserable defeat to Dinamo Zagreb, it came in the seventh minute of stoppage time, when substitute Hakim Ziyech and a bewildered Reece James stood squabbling over a free-kick.
Barely two minutes earlier, Ziyech, performing wretchedly after his half-time introduction, had sent a tame effort straight into the wall from almost exactly the same spot. And yet, with the game on the line, he was determined to have another go.
James’ plea to take it was ignored. Mason Mount’s too. And so Ziyech stepped up. Sure enough, he hit it straight into the wall again. Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Maybe he was talking about Chelsea.
Thomas Tuchel certainly felt a sense of deja-vu. “It’s the same story, like always,” he shrugged in his post-match interview.
Poor finishing and complacent defending were once again the themes. In fact, they are fast becoming Chelsea hallmarks.
Ziyech typified their bluntness at the top of the pitch. His introduction for Cesar Azpilicueta was intended to change the course of the game. Instead, it only added to Chelsea’s frustration.
Long before the botched free-kicks, there were miscued crosses, wayward shots and plenty of other unfortunate moments. By the end, Ziyech had attempted four dribbles and completed none, losing possession 16 times and only winning it once.
In Ziyech’s defense, he was not alone in his struggles. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will not remember his debut fondly having spurned numerous scoring positions. Raheem Sterling was similarly wasteful. Mount offered little.
But it was Ziyech’s performance, and the second of those free-kicks thumped straight into the Dinamo wall, which best typified Chelsea’s night. A summer of extravagant spending, and yet the same old problems, only more pronounced.
The pressure on Tuchel rises.
Fofana, Koulibaly caught cold
Thomas Tuchel’s 100th game as Chelsea manager did not go to plan – best described as a forgettable tirade of poor judgment and missed opportunities.
“I don’t really know where this performance comes from. A lack of determination, a lack of hunger and a lack of intensity to actually do the things that we need at the highest level.”
A scathing review of his side’s below-par display against Dinamo Zagreb.
The German opted against calling out players individually, asserting that “we lose as a team”, but privately he would be remiss not to lay into a couple of suspect performers. Chelsea have spent a combined total of £100m – or just over – on a brand new centre-back partnership yet appear to be significantly worse off than before.
Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana were caught napping for Mislav Orsic’s well-taken opener – but worse than that, the latter was comprehensively beaten in a foot race with a striker eight-years his senior.
The situation looked to be recoverable, but for Fofana’s sluggish attempt to recover it. Perhaps he was, or is, simply lacking in match sharpness. Either way the leisurely response did very little to thwart Orsic’s match-winning surge. Outmuscled and beaten for pace – hardly the hallmarks of a £70m-rated defender.
Tuchel, following a recent 2-1 Premier League loss to Southampton, criticized his side for being defensively “soft” – and it’s clear to see that very little improvement has been made since then. Chelsea have conceded at least once in each of their last six games across all competitions, their joint-longest run without a clean sheet since Tuchel took charge.
Defensive discipline and shape were not all that this Chelsea performance lacked, but they will be powerless to stop many a team this season if they continue to neglect the basics.
Back to the drawing board, one might suggest.
What’s that coming over the hill? It’s Erling Haaland
Quite simply he is a monster. He’s been on these shores for just seven games, it’s already becoming hard to write anything intelligent or ground-breaking about his powers.
Best to talk facts and numbers then.
City’s new superstar scored twice in the Champions League Group G opener against Sevilla, taking his tally to 12 goals in City colours. The Norway striker has now scored 25 goals in just 20 Champions League appearances.
There will be more to come, too. There should have been more in Seville but his team-mates, bar De Bruyne it seems, are still struggling to fire direct balls across the box or into Haaland’s feet. The switch from having to score the beautiful goal to a more simple, rugged one is taking time to sink in. Take for example Phil Foden’s goal. As the play developed down the left edge of the box with Joao Cancelo, Haaland made three separate runs into pockets of space in the box and demanded the cross. On each occasion his request wasn’t fulfilled, did he sulk? I know heck. He just kept moving back into more space waiting for the ball. Eventually, the ball found Foden and he could have slipped Haaland, who was again in space, but he reversed a quality finish into the far corner.
When City’s players work out the ball Haaland is almost always on, who knows what is possible. A monster season, most probably.
Celtic rue missed chances against European champions
Back with a bang was the message from the Celtic support and they started with intent against Real Madrid.
Ange Postecoglou, as promised, did not waver from his fast-paced attacking style, but Celtic were ultimately outclassed by holders Real Madrid in their Champions League opener.
Five years after they last featured among Europe’s elite, Celtic gave Real a fright in a frantic first half by creating a series of chances, including a shot off a post from Callum McGregor.
There is no disgrace to losing to the 14-time champions given the gulf in class between the sides, but the manager was disappointed by some of the chances Celtic passed up in the early stages of the game.
It is not the games against Real that will determine the Hoops’ Champions League fate and they will head to Warsaw next Wednesday looking to get their campaign back on track against Shakhtar Donetsk.