Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku was the difference for Chelsea as they defeated Russian side Zenit St Petersburg 1-0 in the opening match of their UEFA Champions League title defence.
Chelsea, champions of Europe after a 1-0 win in the final against Manchester City last season, were facing Russian champions Zenit for the first time in their history. The Blues were first awarded their individual trophies by UEFA president Aleksandr Ceferin before the match started. Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy received his Goalkeeper of the Year award, as N’Golo Kante received his Midfielder of the Year award and Jorginho received the award for the UEFA Player of the Year following a stellar season for club and country. Manager Thomas Tuchel received the Coach of the Year award too.
The Blues started the match brightly as they moved the ball around the pitch quickly, but the Russian side’s defence was a nightmare to play against. They refused to give up any chances to their opposition, and both teams failed to register a single attempt on target in the opening half an hour. Chelsea were playing against a 10-man defence by Zenit as the Russians opted to sit very deep and form a low block to protect their goalkeeper.
With Chelsea unable to work out space to shoot from range or create a meaningful chance, Zenit were playing a wonderful game of defence against one of Europe’s most stacked attacks. German defender Antonio Rudiger gave his side a lift when he almost scored after a slaloming run from inside his own half. The Chelsea man beat four Zenit players before shooting wide from in front of the box to end the run.
Chelsea eventually found the breakthrough, and it cost them £98 million in the shape of record-signing and striker Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker rose highest to power home a header after an inch-perfect cross from captain Cesar Azpilicueta to give his side a deserved lead after 69 minutes. It was Lukaku’s fourth goal in four appearances, and his first-ever Champions League goal for Chelsea.
Lukaku came agonisingly close to doubling his tally following a Chelsea counter-attack in the last of four added minutes, but a timely block by Zenit captain Douglas Santos prevented him from adding to his tally.
In the group’s other match, Juventus defeated Swedish side Malmo thanks to goals from Alex Sandro, Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata. The Italian giants head to the top of the group ahead of their matchday two clash against champions Chelsea.