Romelu Lukaku’s second-half header saved an below par Chelsea as they started their Champions League defense with a 1-0 win over Zenit at Stamford Bridge.
Lukaku brilliantly managed Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross (69) for his fourth goal in four appearances at Chelsea, in a game where the European champions struggled to create clear chances and manager Thomas Tuchel admitted that this was “not easy” for Lukaku.
Zenit almost managed to equalize late as sub Artem Dzyuba failed to convert at the far post with the gaping goal, summing up a nervous and at times frustrating opening night in Group H for the team from Tuchel.
With Juventus winning 3-0 in Malmö, Chelsea occupy second place in their group, before joining the Italian team on September 29 for the second day. Tuchel’s team remain unbeaten this season after five games in all competitions.
Chelsea: Mendy (7), James (6), Azpilicueta (6), Christensen (7), Rudiger (8), Alonso (6), Kovacic (7), Jorginho (6), Mount (7), Ziyech (5), Lukaku (7)
Subscribers: Havertz (6), Chilwell (NA), Thiago Silva (NA)
Zenith: Kritsyuk (6), Sutormin (5), Chistiakov (5), Rakitskyy (6), Douglas Santos (5), Malcom (6), Wendel (6), Barrios (5), Kuzyaev (5), Claudinho (7) , Azmoun (7)
Subscribers: Dzyuba (5), Erokhin (5), Kravtsov (NA), Mostovoy (NA), Krugovoy (NA)
Man of the match: Antonio rudiger
How Lukaku again showed clinical advantage in close win
Fireworks greeted the European champions ahead of the game, four months after their triumph over Man City in Porto, but there was a lack of spark on the pitch for the first hour as the visitors frustrated Chelsea .
Zenit were compact and disciplined in the first half as Chelsea struggled to create scoring opportunities as the hosts failed to register a shot on target until the 47th minute.
Hakim Ziyech was a waste, Lukaku was not used and despite Mateo Kovacic’s best efforts, the midfielder struggled to connect with the front line.
Since Thomas Tuchel took charge of his first game at Chelsea, his side have managed 23 cleansheets in all competitions, more than any other team in Europe’s Big Five during that span.
The game came to life in the second half thanks to an unlikely offensive source as defender Antonio Rudiger burst in 70 yards from the defense, taking on two Zenit players before striking a few yards from the edge of the box, a goal that would have brought the roof of Stamford Bridge.
Rudiger was then imperious on the other end, denying Sardar Azmoun a shot on goal after being played one-on-one with Edouard Mendy, as the German defender proved why he is now considered one of the best defenders of world football.
Lukaku barely sniffed as the game approached the final quarter, but as he showed in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa, the Belgian only needs an opening.
Center from the back on the right side, Azpilicueta’s delivery was greeted by Lukaku at the far post, directing his header into the ground and past Stanislav Kritsyuk for his seventh goal in six games this season for club and country. Lukaku, as he so often does, turned a decent performance into a brilliant performance.
Chelsea smelled blood and searched for a second, but after several moments of freaking out in the box, couldn’t find it, giving Zenit hope to equalize.
And they nearly got it when Azmoun’s cross from the right found Dzyuba on the stretch a few yards away, but the substitute was only able to get the weakest touch on the stretch as the ball fell wide.
Chelsea made five changes in the 3-0 win over Villa on Saturday. Chalobah, Thiago Silva, Hudson-Odoi, Saul and Havertz dropped out, replaced by James, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Jorginho and Mount.
Chelsea’s previous defense of a Champions League crown did not go as planned – Roberto Di Matteo was sacked in November 2012 after a 3-0 loss to Juventus which knocked out the Blues just six months after their triumph in Munich – but there is much more optimism that this side can progress with a minimum of fuss. Their next match in Turin in two weeks will surely be their most difficult test.
Merson: Chelsea need to get used to
Paul Merson on Special Football:
“Lukaku is an exceptional center forward. He didn’t have a lot to work with, he didn’t have a lot of chances, but the header was special.
“They were efficient, Chelsea, and it was difficult for them. They have built a reputation that the teams will now come to Stamford Bridge, kick off and park the bus. That’s what happens when you do. are a top team. Chelsea will face it, I would say, in every Champions League game they play until the quarter-finals. “
Tuchel on Lukaku: he was the one we missed
Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel:
“Romelu’s performance was not easy. We didn’t create a lot of chances for him, but he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t lose confidence and conviction. And that’s why he’s a class forward. global.
“He’s super important, it’s that simple. You don’t find a lot of strikers of his quality. There aren’t many goals in football and goals change the momentum of the game. to the whole team the conviction that a chance is enough for It is not only talent that he brings, he brings confidence and relieves the shoulders of the other guys around him.
“He has the personality to not lose confidence. He is at a very high level and we are very happy to have him with us.
“We also won without Romelu and produced results. But that was the type of profile we were missing, not just because of the talent but because of the personality. He’s such a humble guy, a great communicator in the locker room, and that creates a certain energy around him in the team of which we are proud and have what to have.
“The spirit and the atmosphere of last year has taken us very far and it is important that we have it again. We have it with Romelu, he knows what the club is. help him with his goals and if we are missing for a match, or hopefully no more games, we will try to find different solutions as we create opportunities.
“But we have it and we are very happy because it gives confidence to everyone around him. It is the best start for the attackers to score. There is no speech, no video, that can have the same impact. “
Chelsea’s last matches in the Champions League
September 29: Juventus (A) – kick off at 8 p.m.
October 20: Malmö (H) – kick off 8 p.m.
November 2: Malmö (A) – kick-off 5:45 p.m.
November 23: Juventus (H) – kick off 8 p.m.
December 8: Zenit (A) – kick-off 5:45 p.m.
Chelsea now travel to Tottenham in the Premier League on Super Sunday, live on Sky Sports Premier League at 4.30pm, ahead of a Carabao Cup third round clash at home against Aston Villa on Wednesday 22 September at 7.45pm.
Their next Champions League game will take place at Juventus on Wednesday September 29 at 8 p.m. ET. The Zenit welcomes Malmö the same day at 5.45 p.m.