Denis Zakaria joined a venerable list of players who have scored on their first Champions League appearance for Chelsea when he netted the winning goal in our 2-1 victory over Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday.
The Switzerland international striker, who arrived on loan from Juventus on transfer deadline day in September, made a big impression in his first competitive game for the Blues when he turned in Mason Mount’s low cross on the half-hour to secure a come-from-behind win over the Croatian side.
With his decisive strike, the 25-year-old became the first player to score on his Chelsea debut since Reece James in the 7-1 victory over Grimsby Town in the Carabao Cup in September 2019 and the latest in a long line of players who have found the net when playing their first game for the Blues in Europe’s premier club competition.
It began way back in August 1999 when we played our very first Champions League game against Skonto Riga in the third qualifying round. The Latvian champions frustrated Gianluca Vialli’s side in the first leg at Stamford Bridge for 76 minutes but two goals in two minutes by Celestine Babayaro and Gustavo Poyet put us in control before Chris Sutton sealed a comprehensive 3-0 win as we made a solid start in our first campaign among the continent’s elite.
Four players joined the list in our next Champions League appearance in 2003/04. Once again, the Blues had to come through the qualifying rounds but we did so in comfortable fashion against MSK Zilina with Eidur Gudjohnsen bagging the opener in a 2-0 win in the first leg in Slovakia and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Robert Huth netting in a 3-0 victory in the return leg at the Bridge.
William Gallas was not involved in our qualifying wins against the Slovakian side but the French defender was in the starting line-up for our group opener at Sparta Prague and he made his mark by turning in Damien Duff’s cross for the only goal five minutes from time.
In 2004/05, there were Champions League debut goals for three players in three games. Didier Drogba got two in a 3-0 thumping of Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes, Alexey Smertin scored his only Chelsea goal as we saw off defending champions Porto 3-1 in London and Arjen Robben produced a deft finish when we won 1-0 at CSKA Moscow to book our passage to the last 16.
Michael Ballack scored from the penalty spot against Chelsea when Bayern Munich were beaten 4-2 in April 2005 but the German midfielder delighted Blues fans when he next appeared in a Champions League game at the Bridge 17 months later. He sealed a 2-0 victory over Werden Bremen with another well-executed spot kick.
Ballack joined Bayer Leverkusen after his departure from Chelsea and he was in the line-up for the German side when two more players scored on their Champions League debuts for the Blues in September 2011. David Luiz had been cup-tied for the Blues in the knockout rounds in 2010/11 after his winter move from Benfica but he made up for lost time by curling in the opening goal against Leverkusen before Juan Mata tapped in our second in stoppage time.
Oscar memorably scored twice in three minutes when the Brazilian made his first Chelsea start in a 2-2 draw with Juventus in September 2012 and Cesc Fabregas was on target when we began our campaign in 2014/15 with a 1-1 draw against Schalke.
The visit of Qarabag in September 2017 saw three Blues getting on the scoresheet on their Champions League debuts as Davide Zappacosta fired in a stunner from near the right touchline before Tiemoue Bakayoko and Michy Batshuayi also tallied in a 6-0 thumping of the Azeri side.
Alvaro Morata sat out that game but he was brought back into the line-up for our visit to Atletico Madrid and he played his part, levelling the score after 59 minutes before a stoppage winner by Batshuayi gave us a crucial three points.
Prior to Zakaria’s heroics on Wednesday, the last player to score on his debut for Chelsea in the Champions League was Romelu Lukaku against Zenit Saint Petersburg a year ago. The Belgian never appeared in the competition during his first spell with the Blues but following his return to the club in 2021, he finally made his long-awaited first appearance in the competition and marked the occasion by rising above the Zenit defence to head home Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross for the only goal after 69 minutes.