Chelsea 1-0 Zenit: Romelu Lukaku header gets Champions League defence off to winning start

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Romelu Lukaku’s header ensured Chelsea got their Champions League defence off to a winning start with a 1-0 victory over Zenit St Petersburg.

The Blues were below par on what was threatening to be a frustrating night until Lukaku nodded in his fourth goal since re-signing from Inter Milan to earn all three points midway through the second half.

A belated UEFA individual awards presentation ceremony before kick-off whipped up a victory parade atmosphere in west London.

Thomas Tuchel received his UEFA manager of the year gong for last term, with Edouard Mendy presented his trophy for goalkeeper of the year.

Jorginho finally got his hands on his player of the season silverware too, as the Blues paid reverence to last term’s Champions League triumph.

UEFA figurehead Aleksander Ceferin was on hand to dole out the pre-match prizes, and an entirely underwhelming first-half proved a true case of after the president’s show.

Chelsea could not convert their general comfort into genuine openings, leaving Stamford Bridge to a man frustrated at the interval.

Try as they might the Blues could not carve open Zenit’s regimented defence.

The visitors ultimately had the most credible half-chance before the break despite minimal possession. Reece James lifted the ball off Claudinho’s toe, however, to ease the danger.

Hakim Ziyech struck Chelsea’s first shot on target shortly after half-time, but it took a mammoth run from Toni Rudiger to lift the crowd.

The Germany defender cantered 70 yards into the Zenit box, before lashing a shot wildly wide. Once the gritty centre-back had found that position, he should truly have hit the target.

But the resolve to run all but the length of the field proved enough to get the home faithful on their feet.

Mateo Kovacic threaded a lovely ball to Ziyech but the Morocco forward could not pick out anyone in the centre of the box.

James then tiptoed around the back of Zenit’s defence but could not test Stanislav Kritsyuk in the visitors’ goal.

As Chelsea pressed and lost an edge of control, Sardar Azmoun almost sneaked through on goal - with Rudiger required to blast away to safety.

Just as Chelsea’s nerves started to twitch for a breakthrough though, up popped Lukaku with a fine headed finish.

Azpilicueta’s hanging far-post cross begged to be turned home but still required an inch-perfect contact.

Not even the posse of three Zenit defenders swarming him could deny Lukaku however, with the talisman striker nodding the ball out of everyone’s reach and into the net.

Replacement forward Dzyuba should have found the net when sliding in towards a low centre that left him in a heap with Mendy.

His miss proved the closest Zenit could come to opening up the Blues, with the hosts negotiating the final stages to seal the win.

Additional reporting by PA.

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