At Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, a Chelsea team that has already ensured that they will finish first in Champions League Group E will play the last game of the group against Dinamo Zagreb.
In the meanwhile, their counterparts from Croatia have been eliminated from contention for the round of 16, but they still have a shot in the Europa League, which is a competition played as a consolation prize.
Our Match Preview: Chelsea vs Dinamo Zagreb
Dinamo Zagreb will try to thwart Chelsea’s European march in a rematch of the match that ended Thomas Tuchel’s career.
Graham Potter has adapted well to the Champions League, and Chelsea’s position in the final stages was guaranteed with a 2-1 victory against Red Bull Salzburg last week.
Now three points clear of AC Milan at the top of the section, Chelsea is guaranteed to advance as group winners given their superior head-to-head record over the Italian champions.
Potter will welcome the chance to prioritize next weekend’s Premier League showdown with Arsenal after his miserable return to the Amex Stadium.
The Englishman’s previous employers delivered their former leader a footballing lesson in a 4-1 thrashing over the weekend, breaking Potter’s nine-game winless run since assuming the reins.
The Blues manager is still undefeated in Europe, and it would be a positive sign if he can extend that run to five matches.
No Chelsea manager since Roberto Di Matteo in 2011-12 has gone undefeated in their first five Champions League matches in charge, and the club was crowned continental champions that year, so Potter has more than one reason to avoid his side’s first home loss of the season here.
Basel did the double against Chelsea in the group stage in 2013-14, and precedent does not help Dinamo Zagreb’s prospects.
Ante Cacic’s team has just one point since beating Chelsea on the first matchday. Their chances of a knockout spot were destroyed in a 4-0 loss to Milan last week, leaving them in the third position.
Dinamo Zagreb has won only one of their previous six games in all competitions, including Saturday’s 1-0 league loss to NK Osijek.
Zagreb must defeat Chelsea and hope Milan beats Red Bull Salzburg to avoid coming bottom in Group E. The visitors haven’t won an away Champions League game in 24 years.
Dinamo Zagreb has lost 17 of 20 road games in Europe’s top league since defeating Ajax 1-0 in 1998. They must try to make lightning strike twice after beating Chelsea 1-0 in September, with Mislav Orsic haunting another London team following his heroics against Spurs.
Our Team News: Chelsea vs Dinamo Zagreb
Wesley Fofana, Reece James, and N’Golo Kante, Chelsea’s three long-term absentees, are still out, and Potter has said that Kalidou Koulibaly has just an “outside chance” of reaching the team for Wednesday’s match.
Kepa Arrizabalaga left the defeat to Brighton at halftime with a problem with the bottom of his foot, opening the door for Edouard Mendy to attempt to re-establish himself as the club’s number one, and the Senegalese international should be one of many changes for this dead rubber.
Thiago Silva and Mateo Kovacic will likely be given the week off, so the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, Armando Broja, Hakim Ziyech, and even Denis Zakaria might get some playing time.
Even Conor Gallagher and Mason Mount, who are just one booking away from a European suspension, may be spared.
Josip Sutalo and Bosko Sutalo, two of Dinamo Zagreb’s central defenders, are both out with injuries; Bosko’s is anticipated to keep him out until the new year.
While the extent of the injury to Josip Sutalo’s quadriceps prevents him from traveling to London, Dino Peric should be able to fill in at center back if Sutalo is unable to. And after serving a domestic ban, Robert Ljubicic will be eligible to play again.
After resting key players over the weekend, the visitors should bring back Orsic, Bruno Petkovic, and Arijan Ademi to the starting lineup for the match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and likely move to a three-man defense.
- Chelsea Possible Starting Lineup: Mendy, Azpilicueta, Chalobah, Cucurella, Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho, Zakaria, Chilwell, Ziyech, Pulisic, Broja.
- Dinamo Zagreb Possible Starting Lineup: Livakovic, Ristovski, Peric, J. Sutalo, Moharrami, Ademi, Misic, Ivanusec, Ljubicic, Orsic, Petkovic.
Our Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Dinamo Zagreb
While Chelsea’s humiliation at the hands of Brighton was a rude awakening, Dinamo Zagreb has been letting their inflated sense of self-importance get in the way of their play of late, meaning they can no longer depend on the satisfaction of their previous victory over the Blues.
We anticipate a plethora of changes on the home side, but a confidence-boosting victory before facing Arsenal is crucial, and we trust in Potter’s sight to fix Saturday’s blunders and go on to the round of 16 in style.