Chelsea pay for slopiness as draw with Zenit lets Juventus take group honours

Ozdoev’s injury-time strike earns draw for Russian side

Zenit St Petersburg 3 Chelsea 3

Chelsea paid for their carelessness again. Just when their strikers remember how to score, their defenders forget how to carry out their jobs. Romelu Lukaku had scored on his first start since October 20th and Timo Werner had scored twice, but Chelsea ended up finishing second in Group H after slipping to a messy 3-3 draw with Zenit St Petersburg.

The Russian side would not be denied. The game had entered stoppage time when Magomed Ozdoev cracked an equaliser past Kepa Arrizabalaga. Chelsea, who conceded more than once in a single game for only the fourth time under Tuchel, could not hold on and top spot went to Juventus.

Chelsea, who began the night in pole position, had made a deceptively commanding start under the roof at the Gazprom Arena. There was a hunger to their approach during the early stages and the signs were promising when they went ahead after two minutes, Ross Barkley swinging a corner to the near post from the left and Sardar Azmoun inadvertently glancing the ball into the middle, where Werner was waiting to tap into the empty net from a yard out.


At that stage Tuchel must have felt that his decision to make eight changes after last weekend's 3-2 defeat to West Ham would pay off. For 20 minutes Chelsea did as they pleased. Mason Mount was linking the play, Werner's pace caused problems and initially it seemed that Zenit had no way of handling the intense high press from Tuchel's side.

Yet Zenit, who were already through to the Europa League, were unfazed.

Sloppiness has crept into Chelsea’s game and weaknesses were evident as the half wore on. The ball kept running away from Lukaku and Zenit twice went close to equalising midway through the half, Malcom shooting too close to Arrizabalaga after racing clear on the right and Azmoun heading wide after a fine cross from Claudinho.

Chelsea briefly threatened to restore order, Mount forcing Mikhail Kerzakhov to make an excellent save after good work from Lukaku, but they were making too many errors. Callum Hudson-Odoi, inconsistent at right wing back, was booked and it was clear that Zenit had identified Saúl Ñíguez as a weak link on the opposite flank.

Unfortunately this was another night to forget for Saúl, who has struggled since joining on loan from Atlético Madrid. The Spaniard’s performances in central midfield have been poor and he was just as unconvincing in a defensive role, even though he almost scored in the first minute.

Saúl's lack of positional awareness was a constant issue and Tuchel will surely be having second thoughts about using him as an alternative to the injured Ben Chilwell, not least because it was the 26-year-old's error that led to Zenit levelling in the 38th minute.

Chelsea were all over the place when Saúl shanked a simple clearance. César Azpilicueta was unable to head the ball to safety and there was still no reaction when Douglas Santos seized possession on the left. Santos's cross reached Claudinho, who flicked a header past Arrizabalaga after peeling behind Malang Sarr.

Worse was to follow. Chelsea, who had rested Thiago Silva and Antonio Rüdiger, were a mess. Sarr toiled as the left-sided centre back and there was also a lack of control in midfield with N'Golo Kanté, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic missing.

Tuchel had experimented, moving Reece James into the middle, but it was too easy for Zenit to thread passes behind Barkley and the England international. Barkley was at fault after giving the ball away in a dangerous position when Zenit went ahead four minutes before the interval.

Chelsea were exposed and, with Andreas Christensen foolishly trying to play offside, Malcom sent Azmoun clear to finish after rounding Arrizabalaga.

Chelsea could have been further behind before half-time. Arrizabalaga, filling in for Édouard Mendy, denied Azmoun.

It was a crucial save from Arrizabalaga, who would later make another important stop from Azmoun at 2-2. Chelsea levelled with a slick goal in the 62nd minute, Werner playing a one-two with Barkley before drawing Kerzhakov and gifting Lukaku his first goal since September 14th.

Confidence restored, Chelsea pressed for a winner. The chance seemed to have gone when Werner fluffed an easy header. Yet with six minutes left Christian Pulisic, who had replaced Hudson-Odoi, slipped a pass to Werner, who swerved inside from the left before cracking a low drive into the far corner.

Back came Zenit. They went long and when Chelsea failed to clear their lines again, Ozdoev was there to smash a rising shot past Arrizabalaga. – Guardian