This time Chelsea had the attacking flair to go with the defensive stability. Roman Abramovich picked a good moment to watch a Frank Lampard team in competitive action for the first time. Assured from back to front, Chelsea fought for a third consecutive clean sheet and made their class tell at the other end, sweeping FC Krasnodar aside to earn their first win in Group E.
Early wobbles gave way to control in the end. Callum Hudson-Odoi’s first goal of the season calmed the nerves and although Krasnodar threatened on a couple of occasions, Chelsea were cruising in the end, with Hakim Ziyech capping a fine display by scoring his first goal for the club.
Perhaps it was understandable that Chelsea took a while to adjust to the unusual sight of 11,000 fans inside the ground, some of them with masks pulled beneath their mouths as they urged the Russians on. It felt like a mental challenge for a team who have been playing Premier League games in empty arenas since June and there were moments during the early stages when Chelsea looked a little thrown by reminders of the old normal, giving the watching public reason to turn up the volume as Krasnodar chased an unlikely upset.
It was too erratic from the visitors. A slow tempo allowed Krasnodar to maintain a solid shape at the back during the opening 30 minutes and a lack of urgency on the ball came with risks, not least when Kai Havertz dithered in a dangerous area after four minutes, allowing Daniil Utkin to force Edouard Mendy to make a plunging save.
Perhaps it is a stylistic issue with Havertz, a languid type who has flitted in and out of games since joining from Bayer Leverkusen. On the one hand the mistake that led to Utkin’s chance brought to mind Havertz running into trouble and gifting a goal to Danny Ings in Chelsea’s 3-3 draw with Southampton earlier this month. Yet it was hard to be overly critical of the German attacker after he provided a demonstration of his ability to drift into space five minutes before the interval, turning on the edge of the area and creating the opener for Hudson-Odoi.
It was a big moment for Hudson-Odoi, who was handed a rare opportunity on the left wing. Under pressure to impress, the youngster provided the ruthlessness after taking Havertz’s pass, shifting the ball on to his right foot before getting slightly lucky with a shot that squirmed underneath Matvei Safanov, Krasnodar’s 21-year-old goalkeeper, before spooning into the net.
Targeted by Bayern Munich in the last transfer window, Hudson-Odoi knows that competition for places in attack is fierce after Chelsea’s spending last summer. The 19-year-old does not only have to contend with Havertz, who might have doubled the lead with a free header after another error from Safanov. Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount were waiting on the bench and for a while Hudson-Odoi was left in the shade by the slight figure who was providing plenty of entertainment on the opposite flank.
Ziyech sparkled on his first start for Chelsea. Eager to make up for lost time after recovering from a knee injury, the former Ajax winger was full of invention. He tested Safanov after a winding run and demonstrated his ability to carve open a defence in the 13th minute, cutting on to his left foot before releasing César Azpilicueta, whose pass to Timo Werner led to Kaio conceding a penalty with a clumsy foul on the striker.
Abramovich, who took up Israeli citizenship after his application for a new UK visa was turned down in 2018, got ready to celebrate as he took in his first live Chelsea game since a friendly against RB Salzburg in 2018. Jorginho went through his usual penalty routine, hopping, skipping, waiting for the goalkeeper to move first. Safonov obliged, diving the wrong way. He escaped when the ball hit the opposite post.
Profligacy from Jorginho, who also missed a penalty against Liverpool last month, led to a sloppy spell from Chelsea. Krasnodar stuck at it, even though they were without several key players. The depleted hosts took heart from Chelsea’s struggle to kill the game and almost equalised when Yuri Gazinsky hit the bar early in the second half.
With Thiago Silva resting at home, Chelsea needed Antonio Rudiger to shine in central defence after being handed his first appearance of the season. They woke up after that scare and restored order after introducing N’Golo Kante, Mount and Pulisic, who won another penalty after his shot was handled by Aleksandr Martnovich. This time Werner slammed the ball home.
Krasnodar unravelled and there was time for Werner to combine with Ziyech, wriggling into space before finishing calmly. Abramovich was a happy man and there was further cause for cheer when Pulisic squeezed in a fourth in added time.