Romelu Lukaku had been the topic of suffocating consideration from a well-organised and sturdy Zenit St Petersburg central defensive three. Everywhere he turned, it felt as if a door was slammed in his face and, as this tie entered its remaining stretch, the guests had to be beginning to assume that they had him and Chelsea underneath management.
But it takes just one second for Lukaku to break away. It takes him just one transfer or second to mete out the harshest punishment. It is the explanation why Chelsea dug so deep to re-sign him over the summer time and it was the explanation why they have been in a position to make a profitable start to their Champions League defence.
When the ball was labored from the within left to the within proper for César Azpilicueta, the Zenit defender Dmitri Chistyakov appeared to have Lukaku inside his grasp contained in the six-yard field. But then Azpilicueta stood up a beautiful cross to the again submit and Chistyakov didn’t. Lukaku had spent the earlier 68 minutes ready, working, lurking. Now he had the massive likelihood and he rose to head it down and in with trademark ruthlessness.
Thomas Tuchel had commented on Monday it was good that Lukaku had hit the bottom operating on his return as a result of strikers don’t like to wait for his or her targets. Lukaku is solely on fireplace. He now has 4 targets in 4 video games and, regardless of the small pattern dimension, it’s straightforward to assume that Chelsea have discovered the lacking piece within the puzzle.
Lukaku’s header didn’t imply that it was over as a result of Zenit had an enormous alternative to equalise when Sander Azmoun crossed for the substitute, Artem Dzyuba, just for him to stretch and slice large with the purpose gaping. The concession of the possibility was shocking given how miserly Chelsea had been on the again. But they duly closed out the outcome to give Tuchel the victory he had referred to as for. It is a great distance to the ultimate, which can be performed at Zenit’s Gazprom Arena however, with Lukaku on board, Chelsea can dream of one other triumph.
“The performance from Romelu was not easy,” Tuchel mentioned. “We didn’t create many chances for him but he’s the type of guy who doesn’t lose confidence. That is why he is a world-class striker. It gives the team a lot of belief that one chance, or a half-chance, might be enough. It’s more than talent he brings. He brings belief.”
It was Tuchel’s first evening sport underneath the Stamford Bridge lights in entrance of followers and the primary time the stadium had been packed for a European fixture since February of final yr. So a lot has occurred since then, not least Chelsea exploding from nowhere to declare their second Champions League, and it feels loopy to replicate that the house supporters have been unable to play any function in it – other than when 2,000 have been allowed in for the ultimate group match against Krasnodar final December.
The pre-match displays have been a nod in the direction of the historical past the staff had made. There have been Uefa awards for Tuchel, Jorginho, Edouard Mendy and N’Golo Kanté however this was all about placing a positive foot ahead, making certain that the defending Russian Premier League champions couldn’t spring an upset.
Chelsea know what they’re: the champions of Europe. And their assist repeatedly let everybody know. It feels candy and it helps to create an aura. Zenit, although, weren’t intimidated. They have been compact all through of their 5-4-1 system they usually flickered on the counter, even whether it is one factor to get pleasure from encouragement against this Chelsea defence, which marries tempo, positioning and physicality, and fairly one other to create something clear-cut.
Chelsea had to be affected person and Tuchel battled to suppress the frustration he felt within the first half when his staff couldn’t join within the remaining third. Jorginho tried to play by way of the strains, to make one thing occur, whereas Mateo Kovacic was busy however Chelsea didn’t work the Zenit goalkeeper, Stanislav Kritsyuk. Mason Mount missed just a few passes and it didn’t occur for Hakim Ziyech.
Chelsea wanted a spark and Antonio Rüdiger, an enormous presence all through, supplied it on 50 minutes with a storming run from inside his personal half that completed with a snatched shot large.
Chelsea’s depth was larger within the second half, as was their intent, they usually had just a few half-chances though Zenit felt they retained a puncher’s likelihood on the break. There was a pointy consumption of breath contained in the stadium when Claudinho despatched Azmoun away earlier than Rüdiger received again to sort out. And it was not for the primary time.
Enter Lukaku. The centre-forward would nearly add a late second, solely to be snuffed out by Douglas Santos. One was sufficient.