Romelu Lukaku was again the difference maker as Chelsea got the defence of their Champions League crown underway with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Zenit St Petersburg.
Chelsea started the brighter of the two teams and looked to have pinned Zenit back into their own half in the opening moments, though the Russian champions defended resolutely and soon began to get their foot on the ball and silence the home crowd.
It was, however, a somewhat scrappy first half, with the first shot on target not coming until the 39th minute, Yaroslav Rakitskiy’s effort being comfortably saved by Edouard Mendy following a corner.
The second half saw Chelsea up the tempo and pose a greater attacking threat, though they still struggled to truly test Stanislav Kritsyuk in the Zenit goal as the visitors looked to keep it tight at the back and hit on the break.
However, they would finally create a piece of quality to take the lead with 21 minutes to play. Cesar Azpilicueta swung a cross in from an inside-right position, with Lukaku peeling off his man to direct an accurate downward header into the bottom corner – his fourth goal for the club since his big-money return to Stamford Bridge this summer.
The game would open up somewhat after the goal as Zenit would look to get back in the game, with both sides going close in the closing stages. Marcos Alonso dragged a shot wide from the edge of the box, while Artem Dzyuba was unable to get enough of a connection on Sardar Azmoun’s square ball across the six-yard box.
Chelsea would though confidently see the game out to earn their first three points of their Group H campaign and speaking afterwards Blues boss Thomas Tuchel was happy with his sides performance against a strong opponent.
“We expected a tough game because it’s the highest competition in Europe and it’s the Russian champions,” Tuchel told BT Sport.
“We had to be at our top level. I am happy because we had to work a lot. It was not easy. It’s tough to perform consistently at that level.
“Winning is good for our belief. We are not finished but we are in a good place to improve.
“The first step is done. But there are five more matches to go [in the group stage].”
The forward bags his first-ever #UCL goal for Chelsea! 💙
It’s been a tricky evening for Blues but they finally break the deadlock… pic.twitter.com/V5jRRUR3QQ
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) September 14, 2021
Tuchel went on to praise the impact of his £98 million striker who continued his rich vein of form since returning to Stamford Bridge.
“It was an excellent header [from Lukaku for the goal], a well timed cross by Azpilicueta. He was brave enough to step up and we had bodies in the box.
“That’s why he [Lukaku] is here. He likes to score and he’s decisive for us.”
Next up for Chelsea is a London derby against Tottenham.
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