CHELSEA 1-0 ZENIT ST PETERSBURG: Thomas Tuchel’s men weren’t at their best in their Champions League opener, but another clean sheet and Romelu Lukaku’s latest goal got them over the line
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Romelu Lukaku is already beginning to look like something of a bargain.
Chelsea paid a record £97.5million transfer fee for a big game player to make the difference not just in big games but also on nervy, edgy European nights like these.
Incredibly, Lukaku has now scored four goals in as many games for Chelsea and when they needed some inspiration their formidable No9 was on hand again.
Lukaku has returned to Chelsea a player transformed as he is clever, powerful and a brilliant centre forward in the mood to rule Europe. And, best of all, he looks ruthless.
His finishing was lethal again and decided the match as Chelsea made a winning start to the defence of their European crown.
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It was hardly the sort of victory and performance to send shockwaves through the rest of Europe but there is no doubting that Chelsea will take some stopping again this year.
Zenit St Petersburg were tough, stubborn opponents who had chances of their own but Chelsea won the trophy four months ago without a classic centre forward or prolific goal scorer.
Now they have both rolled into one with Lukaku as he has the ability to push them further in the Premier League title race and they should fear no-one in Europe either.
Thomas Tuchel said before the game that winning is “addictive” and he has definitely brought an extra edge to Stamford Bridge because they just tend to get the job done.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin handed out individual awards to Jorginho, N’Golo Kante and Edouard Mendy before kick-off after last season’s success.
Maybe that was a mistake because Zenit looked in the mood to spoil the party and being successful also tends to make you a target, a team there to be shot at.
It was clear from very early on that Chelsea would not have it all their own way and the home side just could not find any space, inspiration or chances in the first half.
The first shot on target did not arrive until the 37th minute when Zenit’s Yaroslav Rakitskyi curled an effort towards goal but it was a comfortable save for Mendy.
But you can always rely on Antonio Rudiger to lift the crowd with his passion and commitment. He ran from his own half, storming forward to the edge of the Zenit box before firing just wide.
Chelsea began to take charge, they pushed Zenit further back and it is on nights like these that you can feel the importance of a home crowd roaring the team on and giving them extra energy.
Cesar Azpilicueta pushed forward, found some space on the right and then teased a deep and curling cross to the back post.
There was Lukaku ready to pounce, jumping highest at the back post as he put his downward header into the bottom corner in the 69th minute as Zenit were finally undone.
Chelsea had a late, late scare when Artem Dzyuba raced through, only had Mendy to beat but somehow skewed a glorious chance wide.
It was a late let off but Chelsea deserved their win.