Hakim Ziyech accepts Hudson-Odoi’s gift to nudge slack Chelsea past Malmö
There are times when it feels as if Thomas Tuchel has a solution for every problem. Chelsea’s manager is always prepared to act when a game is threatening to run away from his team and the latest example of his tactical intelligence came when he lifted a stuttering display by tweaking his attack, pulling Hakim Ziyech to the left and sending Callum Hudson-Odoi to the right with instructions to break Malmö’s stubborn resistance by putting his speedy dribbling to good use.
It was a smart move from Tuchel. Hudson-Odoi had produced little of note on the left during the first half, but he was liberated after swapping flanks. The winger was far too quick for Soren Rieks and Franz Brorsson on the left side of Malmö’s defence and he played a pivotal role when the breakthrough arrived early in the second half, crossing for Ziyech to give Chelsea a win that maintains their hopes of finishing top of Group H.
One moment of class was enough for Chelsea, who saw Christian Pulisic come off the bench to make his first appearance since August after returning from an ankle injury, although they will need to be sharper when they host Juventus later this month. This was a laboured performance from the European champions, who travelled to Sweden without N’Golo Kanté, Mateo Kovacic, Romelu Lukaku, Mason Mount and Timo Werner, and they were uncharacteristically slack at times. Malmö, beaten 4-0 at Stamford Bridge last month, put up a good fight and were deservedly applauded off by their fans.
Chelsea, who have won their last seven games in all competitions, did not make life easy for themselves. They seemed surprised when Malmö pressed them during the early stages, a boisterous crowd roaring the Swedish champions forward, and Tuchel had reasons to be concerned as half-time approached. There was a carelessness to his team’s passing at times and there was even a chance for Malmö to go ahead after 11 minutes, a sloppy error from Ruben Loftus-Cheek forcing Andreas Christensen to mop up as Sebastian Nanansi threatened to break through on the left.
Loftus-Cheek was not the only player in blue who erred during an absorbing opening period. There was a weird moment when Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi made a complete mess of a short corner routine on the left and Malmö grew bolder as the half wore on, Antonio Colak going close to shocking Chelsea when he met Sergio Peña’s pass with a volley that zipped inches wide.
Nonetheless there was always a sense that Chelsea’s quality would make the difference. Loftus-Cheek offered some classy touches in midfield after getting that early error out of his system and Malmö were clinging on at times, their defending increasingly frantic as Chelsea began to dominate possession and territory.
César Azpilicueta threatened from the edge of the area, Ziyech had a shot smothered after bursting through on goal and Kai Havertz was wasteful after being played through by Loftus-Cheek, a heavy touch giving Johan Dahlin the chance to block the German’s shot.
The goal eventually arrived. Tuchel had switched his wingers at the break, shifting Ziyech to the left and moving Hudson-Odoi to the right, and the change soon paid off. After 56 minutes Havertz dropped deep and slipped a clever pass through to Hudson-Odoi, who charged down the wing before producing a moment of decisiveness, whipping a bending cross to the far post for Ziyech to clip past Dahlin from close range.
Malmö, rooted to the bottom of the group after losing their first four games, were unable to respond. Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side tired as the game wore on and the only disappointment for Tuchel was that Chelsea failed to add to their lead, Dahlin again denying Havertz after another deft pass from Loftus-Cheek.