Chelsea’s second Premier League International Cup outing of the season didn’t quite go to plan as they were edged out 1-0 at home to a well-drilled Dinamo Zagreb team.
In a match that never really got going, the Croatians were impressive at the back and made it count when Filip Mihaljević gave them a first-half lead they never really looked like relinquishing. The result brought to an end a seven-match unbeaten run for Adi Viveash’s Development Squad and leaves them with work to do next week against Swansea City in the third and final group match.
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Semi-Finalists in this competition a year ago, Chelsea kicked off this year’s campaign with a 2-1 win over Feyenoord a fortnight earlier, and the opportunity to go up against typically older and more experienced opponents of different footballing styles and cultures has always been a big draw for their continued involvement. Whilst the domestic Premier League 2 can often lack intensity and physicality, there was plenty of both in the group opener two weeks ago and Dinamo picked up where everyone left off here.
Fielding a side with significant senior experience in Croatian football, they went up against a Blues side reverting back to a 4-2-3-1 shape with three changes from their win over Manchester United the previous Friday. Fankaty Dabo, Mason Mount and the injured Fikayo Tomori were the trio to miss out, replaced by Joseph Colley, Ruben Sammut, and Miro Muheim; the Swiss lining up on the right of three narrow attacking midfielders behind leading goalscorer Iké Ugbo in attack.
The higher level of tactical play typically found in the International Cup often leads to cagier affairs with each side waiting for the other to slip up, and the first half saw long spells where neither side were really able to get a handle on proceedings. Chelsea had one or two moments where they thought they’d unlocked the door, but Kyle Scott couldn’t beat Dinko Horkaš and Muheim had a decent shout for a penalty turned down by referee Adrian Quelch after being barged from behind.
Dani Olmo, a summer signing from Barcelona, was the liveliest of the Dinamo players but found himself restricted to ambitious long-range tries with Colley and Trevoh Chalobah marshalling a back four that kept the visitors at arm’s length. That was, at least, until ten minutes before the break, when Mihaljević craned his neck back as far as it could reach to head Darick-Kobi Morris’ cross beyond the reach of Brad Collins and into the net via the crossbar to make it 1-0.
Had Chalobah showed the same aerial dexterity with either of his two opportunities in response, Chelsea might have been on terms before the interval, but he couldn’t take advantage and so they went in with work to do. With just one Ugbo attempt on target in the first quarter of an hour of the second half, Adi Viveash changed things up on the hour with the introductions of Mason Mount and Jacob Maddox.
The former didn’t take long to get involved, working well with Van Ginkel to provide the Dutchman with what appeared to be a good chance, at least until Dinamo captain Vinko Soldo intervened with a superbly-timed challenge to clear the ball to safety. Still, having turned things around late against Feyenoord, patience was required in the hope of a similar outcome here.
And they had the chances to do so as well; Mount and Chalobah guilty of missing gilt-edged headers with the clock ticking into the final ten minutes whilst the third and final substitute, a Development Squad debutant in Tariq Uwakwe, was bright but unable to worry Horkaš with a right-footed shot from some way out.
Ugbo thought he’d finally done it in the first minute of stoppage time after Maddox had squared to him in the box, but Soldo – arguably Man of the Match on the night – was there again to get something in the way to ensure victory for his team. The result means it’s all to play for back at Aldershot next Thursday when the Blues welcome Swansea in a must-win fixture if they are to progress in this year’s International Cup.
Chelsea: Collins, Sterling, Colley, T.Chalobah, J.Dasilva (c), Sammut, Muheim (Uwakwe 72), Van Ginkel, Ugbo, Quintero (Mount 60), Scott (Maddox 60)
Subs not Used: Christie-Davies, Thompson, Ali, Nartey
GNK Dinamo: Horkaš, Morris, Čabraja, Plantak, Uremović, Soldo (c), Mamić (Ivančić 63), Muhar, Mihaljević, Dani Olmo (Džijan 90), Lovren (Gogić 90)
Subs not Used: Miškić, Hudećek, Fintić, Špikić
Goal: Mihaljević ‘34