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Winning ugly and five things we learnt as Chelsea labour to 1-0 win against Zenit

Winning ugly and five things we learnt as Chelsea labour to 1-0 win against Zenit

Chelsea open Champions League campaign against Zenit

Chelsea began the defence of their Champions League triumph with a tricky tie against Russian outfit Zenit St Petersburg. Although awards for last season were handed out ahead of the encounter, it was far from an award-winning performance from the Blues, who toiled for much of the fixture.

However, the west London side eventually ground out a result, with Romelu Lukaku nodding home for Thomas Tuchel’s side 20 minutes from time.

Here are 5 things 101 picked out from the game.

1. Lukaku offers Chelsea a much-needed other dimension

The big-money signing that Chelsea made in the form of Romelu Lukaku is always expected to make a big impact, and it is fair to say that the Belgian certainly has. Scoring on his debut against Arsenal, the forward netted twice more against Aston Villa, and began the game against Zenit.

Although left largely isolated, he offered a brilliant alternative option to the technical ability of their other forwards. Indeed, when the first shot on target of the game finally arrived, it was a result of Lukaku’s fantastic hold-up play.

Like any good striker, he cannot impress without service, and he saw little of the ball in a position to affect the game. All it took, however, was one chance. A floated cross in from the right hand side by Cesar Azpilicueta was met with a thumping header from the Belgian, which nestled into the bottom corner.

2. Zenit are no pushovers

In all honesty, it was an incredibly dull first half. Zenit, lined up in a 5-4-1 deep block, frustrated the Chelsea side, who in turn were miles off their best. Mason Mount in particular was poor on the ball, while Hakim Ziyech was virtually anonymous.

Of course, huge credit must go to the visitors, who worked hard to shut down the avenues that Chelsea normally exploit, especially in the wide areas. This remained the case for much of the encounter, and in the end, it was only Romelu Lukaku that proved the difference between the two sides.

Of some consolation to the Blues is the fact that, should Zenit remain as formidable for the rest of the group stage, they will certainly give Juventus a run for their money too, clearing the way for Chelsea to finish top.

3. Kovacic is enjoying his football again

The addition of Saul Niguez appears to have handed an added incentive to Mateo Kovacic, who has stepped his game up so far this season. A sublime pass for Lukaku’s first goal against Aston Villa was compounded by a brilliant performance by the Croatian against tonight’s opposition.

Having taken on the illustrious number 8 shirt, most famously worn by his former manager Frank Lampard, it appears as though so far he has lifted his performances to match. Should he be able to sustain it, he will force a severe headache for Thomas Tuchel when N’golo Kante returns.

4.  Chelsea need to tie down Antonio Rudiger

One of the most important parts of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea side is the rampaging runs that Antonio Rudiger makes from the left side of defence, creating a spare man in the process.

However, the German has just 12 months left to run on his current deal at Stamford Bridge, and reports suggest that:

“There are a couple of clubs that are looking at Rudiger’s situation and have opened discussions privately between intermediaries to let him know what would be on the table, and he’s reasonably open to considering a future away from Chelsea”.

Were Rudiger to walk away from the Blues next summer, it would represent a massive miss for the club, both in defence and attack.

5. Chelsea not in top gear

They say that Championship winning sides find ways to win even when not playing well. If this is the case, then Chelsea must be set to complete the League and Champions League double.

“Champions of Europe” rang around the stadium more in relief than anything else from the Chelsea supporters in the aftermath of Lukaku’s opener, who would have been only too aware that they were somewhat fortunate to get the emphatic win over Villa on Saturday, and that they were looking firmly out of shape against the Russian side.

Like all good sides, however, they remained composed and found a way through to grind out a gritty result and begin their Champions League campaign in the best possible way.

Read more:

Antonio Rudiger willing to leave Chelsea on a free next summer if contract offer doesn’t arrive

Chelsea fans take to social media to outline key difference between this season and last during Zenit tie


This article was edited by Josh Barker.

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Benrahma, Said West Ham United 3
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Mane, Sadio Liverpool FC 3
Maupay, Neal Brighton & Hove Albion 3
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