Romelu Lukaku scored his first Champions League goal for Chelsea as the holders started their title defence with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Zenit.
In Champions League history, the trophy holders had only lost their first game of the subsequent campaign on two of 27 previous occasions going into this game. Although Chelsea limited Zenit to little going the other way in this tussle, it looked as though Thomas Tuchel's side would be frustrated at Stamford Bridge.
Yet club-record signing Lukaku followed up his double against Aston Villa with a towering 69th-minute header to get the Blues up and running in Group H.
It proved decisive, but Zenit should have levelled – substitute Artem Dzyuba unable to convert from five yards out as Chelsea's profligacy went unpunished.
Despite a dominant start, Chelsea were caught cold defensively in the 12th minute, with Reece James just managing to block Claudinho's path to goal.
The trend continued, Chelsea prodding and probing without any sign of a breakthrough, Yaroslav Rakitskiy's tame 38th-minute effort marking the only attempt on target in the first half, before Lukaku headed James' cross over.
It took defender Antonio Rudiger to spark the crowd into life with a charging 50-yard run, the Germany international sending his shot just wide from the edge of the area.
Rudiger made a vital intervention at the other end, timing a challenge on Sardar Azmoun – who was heading through on goal – to perfection.
Chelsea made Rudiger's work count, Cesar Azpilicueta floating in a cross that Lukaku directed powerfully into the left corner.
Marcos Alonso drilled wide as Chelsea looked for a second, though parity should have been restored moments later.
Azmoun squared to his strike partner Dzyuba, only for the Russia forward to slice wide on the slide and let Chelsea off the hook.
What does it mean? Chelsea just about do enough
Despite Dzyuba’s chance, Tuchel will know Chelsea deserved their win, though he will want his side to be more clinical as they progress through the competition. The Blues had 66.3 per cent of possession and 11 shots to Zenit's six, albeit the visitors had as many attempts on target (two).
With Juventus comfortably beating Malmo, Chelsea sit second in Group H, but should have more than enough to make it through with relative ease.
Rom shows the Russians no love
This is what Chelsea paid the big money for. Big goals in big moments and, though it is early in the campaign, Lukaku is already delivering.
He has now scored 14 European goals since the start of 2019-20 (his first season at Inter), with only Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland and Bruno Fernandes netting more in that time. The 28-year-old has also helped himself to 14 Champions League goals from 28 appearances in the competition, while he has found the net in each of his last three games against Russian opposition.
Dzyuba fluffs his lines
Introduced from the bench, Dzyuba looked all set to snatch a point for Zenit, only to lose his composure under pressure from Edouard Mendy, who took a hefty blow for his troubles.
Dzyuba has scored nine Champions League goals for Zenit, and would have gone level with the club’s record scorer in the competition, Hulk, had he tucked in what was the best chance of the game, with an xG (expected goals) value of 0.77.
Key Opta facts
- Chelsea have won 10 of their last 14 Champions League matches since the start of last season (D3 L1), with only Manchester City (11) winning more games in the competition than themselves over this period.
- Zenit have now lost each of their last six Champions League matches away from home, while they are winless on the road in nine games (D1 L8) since beating Lyon in the group stage in 2015-16.
- Since Tuchel took charge of his first Chelsea match in January, his side have managed 23 clean sheets across all competitions, more than any other side within Europe’s big five leagues over this period.
- Chelsea's Mendy celebrated his 10th Champions League clean sheet in what was only his 13th appearance in the competition. In the competition’s history, the only goalkeeper to earn their 10th shutout in fewer appearances is Keylor Navas (11 games).
- Only Robert Lewandowski (22), Erling Haaland (20) and Bruno Fernandes (17) have scored more goals than Chelsea's Lukaku (14) in major European competition since the start of 2019-20. His 14 goals have come in his last 14 appearances.
- Azpilicueta appeared in his 50th Champions League match for Chelsea. The only Spaniards to play more games in the competition for one English club have been David Silva (55, Manchester City) and Cesc Fabregas (55, Arsenal).
A London derby against Tottenham comes up for Chelsea on Sunday, while Zenit face Rubin Kazan in the Russian Premier League next Monday.