Lukaku scores as Blues open defence of their Euro crown with tight 1-0 win over Zenit at the Bridge
By Paul Lagan at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea 1 v Zenit 0
Romelu Lukaku opened his Champions League account for Chelsea with the only goal of the game in their Group H match against Zenit at Stamford Bridge this evening.
The reigning European champions found it difficult to pierce a resolute and dour Zenit defence and it took the Blues until the 69th minute to find the decider.
A simple deep cross by Cesar Azpilicueta was met on the head by Belgium striker Lukaku who steered the ball downwards in-between the dive of the goalkeeper and his near post.
It was just about deserved and vital for the Blues to get three points in their home matches - Juventus, the other favourite to fight for the top spot beat Swedish outfit Malmö 3-0 away.
While the Blues had virtually all the ball, they looked ill at ease when Zenit counter-attacked.
Reece James had to be at his sharpest to foil Claudinho on 12 minutes when he latched onto a defence-splitter. He managed to nick the ball away just as Claudinho was about to shoot.
Chelsea’s best effort on goal, came three minute before the break.
James put in the perfect right, byline cross. Romelu Lukaku however failed to time his header correctly, and the ball dropped invitingly to goalkeeper Stanislav Kritsyuk
Chelsea’s first shot on target came just after the restart - from the boot of Hakim Ziyech- but it was so weak, Kritsyuk was easily able to dive to his left, at his leisure to grab the ball.
Centre-back Toni Rudiger then went on a powerful, lunging run from his own half to the edge of the Zenit penalty area. He managed to get a shot away, but it was not close enough to goal to do any damage.
This spurred the Blues into a more aggressive forward stance, with James scuffing a left-footer into the side-netting on 55 minutes.
But to add to the pressure on Zenit, head coach Thomas Tuchel opted to do a minor reshuffle - replacing ineffectual Ziyech with Kai Havertz on 62 minutes.
But it was Zenit, who had the next chance, a misplaced header by Jorginho allowed Wendel to collected the ball and try a right-footed curler - but the ball, went straight to Mendy.
A minute later, on 69 minutes, and the Blues took the lead.
For all the patient, passing build-up play of the previous 70 minutes, this was simplicity personified.
I deep, right-footed curler bu Azpilicueta was met at the far post by the head of Lukaku, who out-jumped his opponent, and planted a firm header past Kritsyuk and just inside his post.
Alonso, almost doubled the lead on 79 minutes, but his edge of penalty area shot inched wide of goal.
Zenit substitute Artem Dzyuba almost equalised but he could only get a toe to a byline cross. He crashed into Mendy who needed three minutes of treatment.
Tuchel used the time to bring on defenders Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell - Azpilicueta and Alonso made way.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek replaced Mason Mount as the clock tipped into the second of four added minutes.
Teams: Chelsea, Mendy, Rudiger, Alonso, Christensen, Jorginho, Kovacic, Lukaku, Mount, Ziyech, James, Azpilicueta
Subs: Kepa, Lucas Bergstrom, Silva, Werner, Loftus-Cheek, Chalobah, Niguez, Barkley, Hudson-Odoi, Chilwell, Havertz, Sarr
Zenit, Kritsyuk, Chistyakov, Douglas Santos, Barrios, Azmoun, Wendel, Malcom, Claudinho, Kuzyaev, Sutormin, Rakits’kyy
Subs: Kerzhakov, Odoevski, Krugovoi, Mostovoy, Erokhin. Dzyuba, Kravtsov, Khotulev
Referee: Bartosz Frankowski (Poland)