Ziyech cameo sums up Chelsea’s gloomy evening
If there was a moment to sum up Chelsea’s miserable defeat to Dinamo Zagreb, it was in the seventh minute of stoppage time when substitute Hakim Ziyech and a stunned Reece James bickered over a free kick.
Barely two minutes earlier, Ziyech, who put in a sad performance after his introduction at half-time, had sent a tame effort into the wall from almost exactly the same spot. And yet, with the game at stake, he was determined to give it one more try.
James’ plea to take it was ignored. Mason Mount too. And so Ziyech stepped down. Sure enough, he slammed it right into the wall again. Albert Einstein said that madness means doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Maybe he was talking about Chelsea.
Thomas Tuchel definitely felt a deja vu. “It’s the same story, as always,” he shrugged in his post-match interview.
Poor finishing and complacent defending were the themes again. In fact, they are fast becoming Chelsea hallmarks.
Ziyech typified their bluntness at the top of the field. His introduction to Cesar Azpilicueta was meant to change the game. Instead, it only added to Chelsea’s frustration.
Long before the failed free kicks, there were wrong crosses, wayward shots and a host of other unfortunate moments. By the end, Ziyech had attempted four dribbles and completed none, losing possession 16 times and winning just once.
In Ziyech’s defense, he was not alone in his struggle. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will not remember his debut being lovingly rejected at several scoring positions. Raheem Sterling was similarly wasteful. Mount offered little.
But it was Ziyech’s performance and the second of those free kicks slammed 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 is mounting.
Fofana, Koulibaly have a cold
Thomas Tuchel’s 100th game as Chelsea manager didn’t go to plan – best described as a forgettable tirade of poor judgment and missed opportunities.
“I don’t really know where this achievement comes from. A lack of determination, a lack of hunger and a lack of intensity to actually do the things we need at the highest level.”
A scathing review of his side’s underperformance against Dinamo Zagreb.
The German chose not to call out players individually, claiming that “we lose as a team”, but privately he would be remiss not to go into a few suspicious performers. Chelsea have spent a total of £100million – or just over – on a brand new central defender partnership, but appear to be considerably worse off than before.
Kalidou Koulibaly and Wesley Fofana were caught napping ahead of Mislav Orsic’s well-played opener – but worse, the latter was completely beaten in a footrace with a striker eight years his senior.
The situation seemed to be recovering, but for Fofana’s slow attempt to recover it. Maybe he missed, or he just lacks competitive acuity. Regardless, the relaxed response did little to thwart Orsic’s match-winning wave. Muscular and beaten for pace – hardly the hallmarks of a £70million-rated defender.
After a recent 2-1 loss in the Premier League to Southampton, Tuchel criticized his side for being “soft” defensively – and it’s clear there has been little improvement since then. Chelsea have conceded at least once in each of their last six games in all competitions, their joint longest zero run since Tuchel took the lead.
Defensive discipline and form weren’t the only things this Chelsea performance lacked, but they won’t be able to stop many a team this season if they continue to neglect basics.
Back to the drawing board, one might suggest.
What’s coming over the hill? It’s Erling Haaland
He’s just a monster. He’s only seven games on these shores, it’s already getting hard to write anything intelligent or groundbreaking about his powers.
Then it is best to talk about facts and figures.
The new City superstar scored twice in Group G’s Champions League opener against Sevilla, taking his tally to 12 goals in City colours. The Norwegian striker has now scored 25 goals in just 20 Champions League appearances.
There will also be more to come. There should have been more in Sevilla, but his team-mates, bar De Bruyne, it seems, are still struggling to shoot direct balls over the penalty area or into Haaland’s feet. The switch from the beautiful goal to a simpler, more robust goal takes time to sink in. Take Phil Foden’s goal, for example. As the game developed along the left edge of the penalty area with Joao Cancelo, Haaland made three separate runs into the penalty area and demanded the cross. Each time his request was not granted, did he grumble? Was he crazy? He just kept going back to more space, waiting for the ball. In the end, the ball found Foden and could have slipped Haaland, who was back in space, but returned a quality finish in the far corner.
When City’s players work the ball out, Haaland is almost always on, who knows what might be possible. A monster season, most likely.
Celtic rue missed chances against European champions
Back with a bang was the message of the Celtic support and they started against Real Madrid on purpose.
Ange Postecoglou, as promised, didn’t hesitate from his quick attacking style, but Celtic were eventually outclassed by holders Real Madrid in their Champions League opener.
Five years after they were last part of Europe’s elite, Celtic gave Real a startle in a frenetic first half by creating a series of chances, including a shot off the post from Callum McGregor.
There’s no shame in losing to the 14-time champions given the class gap between the teams, but the manager was disappointed with some of the opportunities Celtic missed in the early stages of the game.
It is not the games against Real that will determine the fate of the Hoops in the Champions League and they will head to Warsaw next Wednesday to get their campaign against Shakhtar Donetsk back on track.