Meanwhile, their Croatian counterparts cannot qualify for the last 16 but are still in with a chance of grabbing the consolation prize of Europa League football.
A repeat of the fixture that ultimately proved to be the final nail in Thomas Tuchel‘s coffin will take place in the English capital this week, as Dinamo Zagreb seek to somehow stop the Chelsea juggernaut from rolling on in Europe.
Graham Potter has taken to the Champions League like a duck takes to water, and Chelsea’s place in the knockout rounds was sealed with a 2-1 win over Red Bull Salzburg last week thanks to two stunners from Mateo Kovacic and Kai Havertz either side of the break.
Now three points clear of AC Milan at the top of the section, Chelsea are guaranteed to progress to the knockout stages as group winners given their superior head-to-head record over the Italian champions, and Potter will welcome the chance to prioritize next weekend’s Premier League showdown with Arsenal following his miserable return to the Amex Stadium.
The Englishman’s old employers taught their former boss a footballing lesson in a 4-1 humbling over the weekend, ending Potter’s nine-game run without defeat since taking the reins, but the Blues manager is still unbeaten in Europe and a good omen awaits him if he can extend that run to five matches.
No Chelsea manager since Roberto Di Matteo in 2011-12 has gone unbeaten in their first five Champions League matches in charge, and the West London club ended up being crowned continental champions that year, so there is more than one motivation for Potter to ensure that his side do not suffer their first home defeat of the season here.
Only one side in the history of the Champions League has ever done the double over Chelsea in the group stage, with Basel achieving the memorable feat in 2013-14, and precedent does not benefit Dinamo Zagreb’s chances of following in the Swiss giants’ footsteps.
Ante Cacic‘s side have only picked up one point since overcoming the Blues on the opening matchday, and their hopes of a knockout berth were extinguished in a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Milan last week to leave them battling for third place.
The month of October has certainly been a Halloween horror show for Dinamo Zagreb, who enter Tuesday’s match having won just one of their last six games in all tournaments – the most recent of which ended in a 1-0 league defeat to podium hopefuls NK Osijek on Saturday.
In order to avoid finishing dead last in Group E, Zagreb must find a way to beat Chelsea while also relying on Milan to do them a favour by winning against Red Bull Salzburg, whom they are currently two points adrift of, but it has been 24 years since the visitors last won an away game in the Champions League.
Since overcoming Ajax 1-0 in 1998, Dinamo Zagreb have suffered 17 defeats from 20 away games in Europe’s top tier and must somehow attempt to make lightning strike twice after beating the Blues 1-0 in September, with Mislav Orsic haunting another London club after his previous exploits against Tottenham Hotspur.
Chelsea’s trio of long-term absentees in Wesley Fofana, Reece James and N’Golo Kante all remain sidelined, and Potter has also revealed that Kalidou Koulibaly has a strong chance of making the squad for Wednesday’s fixture.
Kepa Arrizabalaga also had to be withdrawn at half time in the loss to Brighton due to an issue with the bottom of his foot, so the door has been opened for Edouard Mendy to try to re-establish himself as the club’s number one, and the Senegal international should be one of several changes for this dead rubber.
Cesar Azpilicueta, Armando Broja, Hakim Ziyech and maybe even Denis Zakaria could get a look-in this week, with Thiago Silva and Mateo Kovacic – who missed training with a calf issue on Tuesday – likely in line for rests. Conor Gallagher and Mason Mount are also one booking away from a European ban and may be spared too.
Meanwhile, Dinamo Zagreb will expect to make do without two of their centre-backs in Josip Sutalo and Bosko Sutalo, the latter of whom is expected to remain out until the New Year with a fractured fibula.
Josip Sutalo was ruled out with a quadriceps issue, and the severity of that injury is currently unclear, but Dino Peric should be fit enough to deputise for his teammate in the backline if he misses the trip to London. Robert Ljubicic will also return from a domestic suspension.
After ringing the changes for the weekend’s action, the visitors ought to recall the likes of Orsic, Bruno Petkovic and Arijan Ademi to the first XI at Stamford Bridge, and a switch to a three-man defence will most likely be in order.
Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Mendy; Azpilicueta, Chalobah, Cucurella; Loftus-Cheek, Jorginho, Zakaria, Chilwell; Ziyech, Pulisic; Broja
Dinamo Zagreb possible starting lineup:
Livakovic; Ristovski, Peric, J. Sutalo; Moharrami, Ademi, Misic, Ivanusec, Ljubicic; Orsic, Petkovic