Graham Potter has admitted he was impressed by Denis Zakaria after the Swiss midfielder scored on his long-awaited Chelsea debut to help them beat Dinamo Zagreb 2-1 on Wednesday night.
Zakaria joined Chelsea on the final day of the summer transfer window but had actually played more for Juventus this season than he had for Chelsea, having to wait until October to even make it onto the bench in the Premier League. He had been an unused substitute in all of Chelsea’s Champions League matches, but that was due to the competition allowing a bigger bench.
But finally, three months after signing, Zakaria made his Chelsea debut at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night – and he showed Potter why he should not become one of the Blues’ forgotten loanees. The Swiss international started as part of a midfield three alongside Jorginho and Mason Mount as one of the two No.8s in a 4-3-3, with Potter switching from the back-three system he had started to use at Chelsea.
Playing in a box-to-box role, Zakaria looked fresh in the Chelsea midfield, as if he had been playing week in, week out, and was putting himself about both in defence and attack. The Swiss midfielder, who so many Chelsea fans had been waiting to see in action, didn’t take too long to endear himself to the Blues faithful at Stamford Bridge with some of his early actions and tackles cheered as if they were goals.
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But not even the most optimistic of Chelsea fans could have predicted they’d actually be cheering a Zakaria goal. After Raheem Sterling had cancelled out Bruno Petkovic’s opener following a slow Chelsea start, Potter’s side were growing in the game and on the attack with Mount on the ball. The Englishman’s pullback was slightly diverted from its natural course by the foot of a defender, but it feel to Zakaria.
Readying himself, Zakaria calmly placed the ball through the crowd and it just sneaked over the line via a touch from the defender. While the defender did divert the ball into the back of the net, with the shot being on target it was awarded as Zakaria’s goal, scoring with his first ever shot as a Chelsea player.
Denis Zakaria scored his first goal for Chelsea with his first shot on his first appearance for the club.
— Squawka (@Squawka) November 2, 2022
Zakaria also became the first player to score on his Chelsea debut since Alexandre Pato in April 2016, finding the net in one of his two Blues appearances while on loan from Corinthians. The Swiss midfielder will be hoping to have a better Chelsea career than Pato, and is focusing on getting more game time.
“I think it was important for me to play good, to have a good game and to help the team to win. I think the job is done today, so I’m really happy about that,” he told BT Sport.
“On my mind was only that I have to score. I shot as hard as possible and it went inside, so I’m really happy.
“Very, very difficult I have to say (to have to wait for a game). I’m a player, I like to play, I always want to play. When you have to see your teammates on the bench it’s not so easy but I was always behind the team, I always want us to win every game and I was waiting for my chance.
“Today my chance came and I took the chance.”
Graham Potter added: “I thought he was really good. You can see what he brings, the quality he has and he played with enthusiasm. He had good discipline and got forward when he could. I was really impressed with him.
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“He certainly did more than we asked which was to give us competition there. He did everything he could. He helped the team and scored – a great debut.”
Zakaria did have to come off the pitch through injury though it doesn’t look too serious, and Chelsea will be hoping it isn’t, considering their fitness problems particularly in midfield.
“I thought he was excellent, I thought he got around the pitch,” Joe Cole said on BT Sport.
“He was the one your eyes went to because it’s his first game, we haven’t seen anything of him. Perfect for Jorginho, a bit of experience in there next to him, he was getting around putting his tackles in, breaking up the play and to get a goal would have been the bonus.
“Now it’s another option for Chelsea, especially with Kante being out for so long, it’s a needed option.”
Cole wasn’t alone in making the Kante-Zakaria connections, with several Chelsea fans on Twitter getting involved, while we also spoke of the Swiss midfielder as a potential replacement in our video looking at how Potter could set his new club up a few months ago.
Zakaria doing his best impression of Prime N’Golo Kanté so far! 😍
— London Is Blue Podcast ⭐️⭐️ (@LondonBluePod) November 2, 2022
Zakaria is actually Kante in halloween costume
— Mohsin (@eliteopinionz) November 2, 2022
⚠️ A Chelsea midfielder scored ⚠️
Well done Zakaria pic.twitter.com/k3InqVssH2
— Jam (@Carefree_Jam) November 2, 2022
The first Swiss man to play for Chelsea in 75 years, and he marks it with a debut goal at the Bridge.🇨🇭
— Nischal Schwager-Patel (@Nischal_SP) November 2, 2022
Zakaria is doing that Kante role perfectly
— hayden⭐️⭐️ (@shaIIow) November 2, 2022
— BigFresh (@Shyn3bright) November 2, 2022
Zakaria deserves many more minutes after this performance. We have been without Kante, our only real ball winner in midfield, that i almost forgot what it was like to see us play with one.
— Hanzu (@hanichelsea10) November 2, 2022
Zakaria might be the new Kante. We need a ball-winning midfielder BADLY!
— IRE (@Iretomiwa_A) November 2, 2022