If justification is required for Chelsea’s decision to spend £97m on bringing Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge, the Belgium striker showed why after a goal from the decisive touch on Tuesday.
In their first game since winning the Champions League against Manchester City last May, Chelsea were frustrated by the organized defense of Zenit St Petersburg.
With a little more than 20 minutes left, Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta sent a high ball towards Lukaku, and the Belgian striker rose high and headed the goal past Stanislav Kristiuk.
This is the strong striker’s fourth goal with Chelsea since moving from Inter Milan this summer, and showed new evidence that he can be a crucial component of coach Thomas Tuchel’s squad this season.
“It was a fantastic header, an excellent cross from Azpilicueta, that’s why he’s here,” said German Tuchel, whose performance Chelsea has improved significantly since replacing Frank Lampard in January 2021. He loves to score and he is crucial for us.
Tuchel is famous for his multiple moves off the field, but he remained calm during the Group H match, despite his club’s struggle to penetrate the Russian team’s defense for a long time.
Chelsea did not hit any ball on goal during the first half, but their level improved after the break.
“This did not disappoint us,” Tuchel said. It was tough against a very strong opponent. We had to work very hard, we struggled a bit in creating chances and shooting in the first half, but in the second half it was easier to find space and shoot. We deservedly won. Check it hard. We needed some time for the opponent to get tired but I liked what I saw.
Although Chelsea’s performance was not outstanding, they have been cleaned for the 23rd time since Tuchel’s appointment, more than any other team during the same period from the top five league clubs in Europe.