Denis Zakaria seized his chance to make a mark on his Chelsea debut. The 25-year-old scored the winner here at Stamford Bridge last night as his side ran out winners in their final Champions League Group E game.
Zakaria’s selection came two months and a day after Chelsea signed him on a season’s loan in the final hours of transfer deadline day.
Having been praised by head coach Graham Potter for the way he has “supported the team from the sidelines”, the Switzerland international finally got his moment to be more than a cheerleader, albeit only after the Blues had already qualified for the last 16.
Zakaria’s whipped finish ensured Chelsea came from behind to beat Dinamo Zagreb after Raheem Sterling cancelled out Bruno Petkovic’s shock early strike.
His performance was more than just a match-winning one. Zakaria misplaced just one of his passes over his 71 minutes on the pitch, won possession seven times and won three fouls for his team through his powerful midfield dribbling.
Unfortunately, his debut was cut short after he was kicked while already beginning to cramp up, having played such little football in recent months.
“It’s a long time since I didn’t play so my body was a little bit tired with a bit of cramp,” Zakaria said when explaining his withdrawal. “Then I took a kick so that’s why I was taken out.”
Zakaria is now ready for further opportunities in tougher matches, with Arsenal, Manchester City and Newcastle to come before the break for the World Cup. The question is why it has taken so long for Potter to select him?
The question is why it has taken so long for Potter to select him?
“For me yes [it was a surprise], a little bit,” Zakaria said of his lack of minutes since arriving from Juventus. “But yes, it was a new coach who decided to do this. I have to accept it and work. That’s what I do, I worked on myself to be ready for this moment to be ready and today I think I was ready so I am happy about that.
“It is an amazing feeling. I am really happy and proud about this goal and I hope it won’t be the last goal. I hope that I can play more. But that’s for the coach to decide.
“I will train as always, give my best, and if I get the chance to be on the pitch then I will try to help. I always said that when I get the chance then I will have to prove myself, and today I think that it was a good performance from me.”
Potter’s choice to finally play Zakaria binds him to Chelsea for the rest of the season. Juventus are unwilling to recall him from his loan spell, while he is now also ineligible to play for any other clubs this season due to FIFA rules limiting players to two teams per campaign.
That could work out nicely for Chelsea, who have a midfielder clearly hungry to prove that he is good enough for the reigning world champions.
There is also an option to make his loan move permanent for £25million next summer. That could soon look like a bargain should Zakaria put in more displays like his first in a Chelsea shirt.