Malmo vs Chelsea: Five things we learned as Hakim Ziyech’s strike earns narrow Champions League win

Chelsea were made to work for a narrow victory over Malmo in the Champions League.

Hakim Ziyech’s strike in the second half proved decisive as Thomas Tuchel’s side secured a 1-0 win in Sweden.

The Blues had plenty of opportunities to win by a far greater scoreline, however, with Kai Havertz missing two clear chances when being played through on goal in either half.

Despite a late flurry of pressure from the hosts, Edouard Mendy was untroubled in the Chelsea goal as the European champions kept another clean sheet.

Here are five things we learned from the group stage fixture.

Chelsea frustrated in front of goal

It was turning out to be ‘one of those nights’ in front of goal for Chelsea, and in some ways it still was. The Blues had 16 shots at goal before they finally broke the deadlock and the struggles that Chelsea had in beating Malmo goalkeeper Johan Dahlin will have been a slight concern for Tuchel, with Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner confirmed to be out until after the international break.

Chelsea’s build-up play was generally pretty good, hence the number of promising opportunities and efforts they were able to create and rack up on goal. The problem was the finishing, with Havertz twice missing presentable chances after being slipped through on goal by Loftus-Cheek. Hudson-Odoi and Ziyech also struggled to find the corners with their finishing, in the first half at least.

When the breakthrough did eventually come, just as it always seemed certain that it would, it was all three of those players who combined. Hudson-Odoi and Havertz played a neat one-two on the halfway line before the winger played a sublime cross for Ziyech to finish at the far post. It was a fine move, and one that Tuchel would have been pleased by Hudson Odoi and Ziyech’s contributions, but one that Chelsea should have consolidated with further goals.

Loftus-Cheek shines in Chelsea midfield

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After being handed his first Champions League start in six years, Ruben Loftus-Cheek made the most of his chance in midfield.

With Mateo Kovacic suffering a hamstring injury in training last week and N’Golo Kante still working on regaining full fitness, Loftus-Cheek had the opportunity to start alongside Jorginho in a midfield two at the Eleda Stadion.

The 25-year-old is one of the most entertaining players to watch when he’s in full flow, and he has the rare ability to dominate midfields with a combination of skill and power. There were two occasions, for example, when Loftus-Cheek was able to either flick the ball over or shimmy past his opponent, before driving into space.

He was also able to create one of Chelsea’s best chances while at 0-0, when he cut inside two Malmo defenders before firing at goal. With those moments in isolation, he looks like a world-beater, which only adds to the frustration that he hasn’t been able to do it enough at the top level. There were a couple of moments that were reminders for why that has been the case, with Loftus-Cheek giving the ball away twice following those eye-catching midfield bursts.

Overall, though, Loftus-Cheek was probably Chelsea’s best performer in Sweden. His challenge now is turning these displays, which are often described as him offering ‘glimpses’ of his talent, into consistent performances for Thomas Tuchel’s side.

Christian Pulisic makes long-awaited return

With his second-half appearance from the bench, Christian Pulisic returned to make his first Chelsea appearance since August.

It’s been a frustrating few weeks for the US international, after being hit by Covid and then by an ankle injury, and he returns to find his place in the pecking order at risk like never before.

Hudson-Odoi and Ziyech made key contributions against Malmo, while he must also compete with Mason Mount, Werner and Havertz for a place alongside Lukaku – once the striker comes back from injury.

Every opportunity counts, therefore, as Pulisic looks to spark his season into life. It seemed he had a late chance to do that after rounding the goalkeeper on a late breakaway, and he would have been grateful to see the offside flag go up after he put the shot wide.

Pulisic will look to make a better impact on Saturday against Burnley, as Chelsea return to Premier League action.

Malmo struggles sum up Champions League inequalities

After losing their last six Champions League matches by the combined scoreline of, wait for it, 28-0, Malmo deserve a lot of credit for making life difficult for the European champions.

Malmo’s hopes of progressing from the group stage were pretty much put to an end following their 4-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge last time out, a match in which they were torn apart by Thomas Tuchel’s side.

Although they conceded just as many shots here, Malmo remained competitive by hanging in the game. Indeed, they almost took a shock lead into half-time when Antonio Colak dragged a shot wide of the post.

But rather than damning Malmo with faint praise, their recent record in the group stage is a symbol of the inequalities between clubs and leagues in European football’s top competition. It’s very hard to see the Swedish side progressing much further given the current structure of the elite level of the game.

Group H picture – one more needed for Chelsea?

Chelsea’s standing in Group H after four matches played will be a lot clearer after Juventus face Zenit St Petersburg in Turin later tonight, but with nine points the Blues will be feeling confident of booking their place in the knockout stages.

Progress could be sealed with a home win over Juventus after the international break and with Massimiliano Allegri’s side languishing in midtable in Serie A, Tuchel will be demanding that his side take revenge for the 1-0 defeat they suffered in Turin earlier in the competition.

The German will want to avoid having to earn a point in St Petersburg in the last group match on 8 December, a fixture that takes place in between two crucial Premier League matches against West Ham and Leeds United.

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