Lukaku elevates Chelsea beyond stubborn zenith

LONDON: Romelu Lukaku (Photo) animated an otherwise flat performance at Chelsea with the sole goal of beating Zenit St Petersburg 1-0 and giving the Blues defense a victorious start in the Champions League.

Lukaku never made a Champions League appearance on his first stint at Stamford Bridge, but is quickly making up for lost time since returning to Chelsea for a club-record £ 97million ($ 134million) last month.

The Belgian striker now has four goals in as many games and his predatory instincts with 21 minutes to go are touching the cracks of a disappointing performance by Thomas Tuchel’s men.

Tuchel urged his players not to rest on their laurels after their surprise run to become European Champions last season.

However, the glory of their victory over Manchester City in Porto was hard to ignore as the German, Edouard Mendy and Jorginho were rewarded on the pitch ahead of kick-off as UEFA coach, goalkeeper and player of the year respectively.

Chelsea certainly have the team depth to be able to challenge on all fronts this season and Tuchel has made five changes from the side that beat Aston Villa 3-0 in the Premier League on Saturday.

Captain Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen, Reece James, Jorginho and Mason Mount returned to the starting XI, but Chelsea’s offensive play was still not very cheerful.

The first half came and went without the home side even registering a shot on target.

Center-back Antonio Rudiger looked to take matters into his own hands with a furious run five minutes after the break, but the finish let the Germany international down as he blazed wide.

Lukaku shows off his mix of pace, power and precision in front of goal to score his first Stamford Bridge goals for Chelsea against Villa this weekend.

Zenit had kept the 28-year-old silent for almost 70 minutes, but all he needed was a teasing cross from Azpilicueta to stall in the Champions League for his new club by planting a header past Stanislav Kritsyuk.

Zenit boss Sergei Semak took advantage of Artem Dzyuba’s towering presence in search of an equalizer and it almost paid off.

But even the six-foot-six (1.97-meter) Russian international couldn’t stretch to get enough clear contact on Sardar Azmoun’s cross 10 minutes from time and the ball dribbled wide.

Tuchel immediately went out of business with the introduction of Thiago Silva and Chelsea have held a fourth clean sheet in six games this season. – AFP

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