Updated: Dec 29, 2021
Blues surrender top spot following a six-goal thriller in Saint Petersburg.
Written by Yendi (@ftblYendi)
Edited by Ryan Bellenie (@BellenieSport).
Although qualification from Group H has already been secured, Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea still had it all to play for in their trip to Russia on Wednesday evening.
The Blues entered the group top of the pile but still relied on winning the game and bettering Juventus’ result against Malmö to retain their place by the end of the night.
The previous game between the two sides is the only one in history, with Romelu Lukaku’s goal being the difference between zero and three points at Stamford Bridge last September.
Chelsea’s injury list remains large with notable absentees such as Mateo Kovačić, who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 despite returning to full training a day prior. Additionally, the Blues remained without N’Golo Kanté who is still nursing a knock from the Manchester United match.
However, both Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku were able to make first team starts, starting together for the first time since our 4-0 thrashing of Malmö in October.
Saúl deputized at left-wing-back for the first time, standing in for Marcos Alonso who was rested, and Ben Chilwell who is reportedly out for the rest of the season.
In keeping with his nickname ‘Turbo Timo’, Werner was able to bump Chelsea into an extremely early lead, popping up in the right place following a Christensen flick on header. It was a well worked corner that caught Zenit off-guard, with the Blues having a dream start in Russia.
Following this lead however, Zenit soon began to take the reins of the game, with slick possession-based movement often outwitting our deputising midfield and defenders.
The Russians were able to pass through the Chelsea press several times, forcing Kepa Arrizabalaga into making a crucial one-on-one save from Malcolm just before the half-hour mark.
Realizing their ascendency, Zenit pressed on and found a goal. A Brazilian connection between full-back Douglas Santos and Claudinho, with the latter timing his run well to beat the offside trap and head home the equalizer.
Smelling blood, Zenit were able to slice their way through the Blues defence once again.
An insightful pass from Malcolm found Iranian forward Sardar Azmoun, who coolly rounded Kepa to earn Zenit a half-time lead. Later on in the half, it was entirely possible for Zenit to extend their lead. Azmoun, who had scored only seconds earlier, found himself once again one-on-one with Kepa and opted to try to pass it round the Spaniard. But a strong left hand kept Chelsea in the game before the break.
Having been shell shocked by the first half, Chelsea came out looking a better team, but not necessarily defensively stronger.
Either way, their domination at the beginning of the second period was rewarded when Timo Werner beat the offside trap and unselfishly squared the ball to Romelu Lukaku who easily tapped in for an equaliser.
Thomas Tuchel aimed to swing the game in the Blues favour with the attacking substitutions of Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic following the goal. However, Zenit would put the London club under siege for the vast majority of the second period,
Sardar Azmoun forced another excellent save from Kepa on the 71st minute as he clawed away the Zenit attacker’s header. However this attacking left Zenit open on the break, and following a cut-back from Christian Pulisic, Werner was able to adjust well in the box and fire a low shot into the bottom right corner. Chelsea now had the lead once more with five minutes left on the clock.
Zenit seemed not to take the hint, as they once again took the game to Chelsea in the final minutes. Their resilience paid off as a deflected pass found its way to Magomed Ozdoyev, who hammered a volley beyond Kepa for another equaliser in the dying stages.
A thrilling end to a thrilling encounter, though Zenit can feel hard done by to not come away with a famous victory over the European champions.
After the whistle:
For Russian league leaders Zenit, this result will surely boost their morale and spur them on to the defend their Russian crown in their domestic league.
They can be very proud of an impressive performance, playing attractive and laser sharp football that could take them deep into the Europa League. For Chelsea there are many positives. The attack looked harmonious with excellent interchanging play between the forwards who all put a good shift in.
A conundrum for Thomas Tuchel over the last 12 months has been solving the Rubik’s cube that is Chelsea’s attack, balancing the options and ensuring game time for all. The German has succeeding in doing that, but is currently enduring his toughest spell as Blues coach following a series of turbulent results/
Tuchel will be worried about the haemorrhaging of goals. Having only conceded one in their previous 5 games, Tuchel’s Blues have now conceded eight in their last four, winning just one match in the process.
Looking forward, an out of form Leeds over the weekend could be the perfect time for Tuchel to remedy the team.
Zenit 3-3 Chelsea.
- Werner (2’, 85’).
- Claudinho (38’).
- Azmoun (41’).
- Lukaku (62’).
- Ozdoyev (90+4’).
BBC Sports Player of the match:
Artem Dzyuba (Zenit).
Zenit (4-1-4-1): Kerzhakov; Karavayev, Lovren ©, Rakitskiy (65’), Douglas Santos; Barrios; Malcolm (80’), Kuzyayev (90’), Wendel (51’), Claudinho; Azmoun (79’).
- Subs: Mostovoy (51’), Krugovoy (66’), Dzyuba (79’), Erokhin (80’), Ozdoev (80’).
Chelsea (3-4-1-2): Kepa; Azpilicueta ©, Christensen, Sarr; Hudson-Odoi (65’), James, Barkley (65’), Saul (75’); Mount, Lukaku (75’), Werner.
- Subs: Pulisic (65’), Ziyech (65’), Havertz (75’), Alonso (76’).
Zenit (46%) vs Chelsea (54%).
Zenit (18) vs Chelsea (13).
Shots on target:
Zenit (7) vs Chelsea (8).
Zenit (10) vs Chelsea (8).
Zenit (5) vs Chelsea (8).
- (credit | BBC Sport).
- (credit | BT Sport).