Denis Zakaria scored the winner on his Chelsea debut as Graham Potter’s side finished top of Champions League Group E with a 2-1 victory over Dinamo Zagreb at Stamford Bridge.
A 1-0 defeat at Zagreb on September 6 triggered the sacking of former Blues manager Thomas Tuchel, but Potter saw his side return to winning ways after the weekend defeat to his former club Brighton.
Despite going behind to Bruno Petkovic’s early goal, Raheem Sterling equalised before on-loan Juventus midfielder Zakaria – who has had to wait for a chance to impress, struck.
On how he coped with having to wait for his chance, Zakaria told BT Sport. "Very, very difficult I have to say. I like to play and always want to play. When you have to see your team-mates from the bench it is not easy but I was always behind the team and was waiting for my chance. Today it came and I took my chance."
Zagreb went into the game requiring a win and a RB Salzburg defeat to reach the Europa League, but were unable to get the required result in London.
There was a concerning moment for Chelsea in stoppage time when England left-back Ben Chilwell was forced off after going down clutching his left hamstring. Potter admitted "it doesn't look good" after the match with the World Cup set to begin in Qatar on November 20.
Only seven minutes had passed when Zagreb briefly gave their hopes of finishing third a boost when Petkovic headed the visitors into the lead from close range.
Ten minutes later Sterling levelled with his first Chelsea goal since September 14.
The 27-year-old picked up the ball on the edge of the box from a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang flick-on, wove space to shoot from and then drilled low into the back of the net.
The home side had a chance to go ahead in the 26th minute, as Kalidou Koulibaly tried to guide the ball goalwards with a header from a corner, but it was over the bar.
Sterling also had a chance to add to his and Chelsea’s tally just before the half-hour mark after being picked out by Kai Havertz but his first-time hit sailed over the goal.
However, Chelsea were soon rewarded for their opportunities when Zakaria sent a low drive past goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic. Defender Sadegh Moharrami was on the post and managed to get a boot to the ball, but was unable to prevent it crossing the line.
At the start of the second half, Zagreb came close to finding an equaliser, but Edouard Mendy was equal to Josip Sutalo’s header.
The game continued end-to-end with Aubameyang seeing a drive from distance rebound off the crossbar.
Mason Mount went close to adding to Chelsea’s advantage with a free-kick which forced a save from Livakovic, and Conor Gallagher had an effort saved in the 85th minute.
Chelsea had another chance to cap off their victory in stoppage time, but Livakovic was equal to an attempted tap-in from Gallagher less than five yards out.