Romelu Lukaku scored his first Champions League goal for Chelsea as the title holders began their title defense with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Zenit.
In the history of the Champions League, the holders of the trophy have lost their first game of the following season on only two of the previous 27 occasions. Although Chelsea limited Zenit to little to do the opposite in this brawl, it looked like Thomas Tuchel’s side would be frustrated at Stamford Bridge.
Yet Lukaku, the club’s record, followed his brace against Aston Villa with a massive header in the 69th minute to get the Blues into Group H.
It proved decisive, but Zenit should have equalized: substitute Artem Dzyuba was unable to convert from five yards because Chelsea’s debauchery went unpunished.
14 – Only Robert Lewandowski (21), Erling Haaland (20) and Bruno Fernandes (17) have scored more goals than Romelu Lukaku (14) in major European competitions since the start of 2019-20. Climb. pic.twitter.com/8wEzRvLJEJ
– OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 14, 2021
Despite a dominant start, Chelsea were caught by a defensive cold in the 12th minute, with Reece James just managing to block Claudinho’s path to goal.
The trend continued, with Chelsea prodding and probing with no sign of a turning point, Yaroslav Rakitskiy’s tame shot in the 38th minute marked the only attempt on goal in the first half, before Lukaku headed James’s cross.
It took defender Antonio Rudiger to turn on the crowd with a 50-yard run, the German international sending his shot just wide from the edge of the area.
Rudiger made a pivotal intervention on the other side, perfectly timing a challenge on Sardar Azmoun – who was crossing into goal – to perfection.
Chelsea rely on Rudiger’s work, with Cesar Azpilicueta floating in a cross that Lukaku forcefully directs into the left corner.
Marcos Alonso leapt wide as Chelsea sought a second, although parity should have been restored moments later.
Azmoun sided with his attacking mate Dzyuba, only for the Russia forward who cut wide on the slip and left Chelsea off the hook.