London, Sep 14 (EFE).- Chelsea struggled for most of their opening contest of the new Champions League season, but a second-half goal by Romelu Lukaku was enough to give the title holders a 1-0 victory here Tuesday night over Zenit Saint Petersburg.
One scoring chance for the Belgian international was all the Blues needed to come away with three points at Stamford Bridge.
On the play, Lukaku signaled with his left arm that he wanted the ball and Cesar Azpilicueta sent in an exquisite lofted cross from far outside the penalty area for his teammate, who powered home a header just inside the near post in the 69th minute.
Sergei Semak’s men had more than held their own to that juncture of the contest, not only defending well but creating chances on attack.
Despite their offensive firepower, Chelsea struggled to break down their opponent’s lines of four defenders and five midfielders.
Lukaku played well with his back to the Zenit goal but it was not enough to create any danger in the final third.
The visiting Russian squad, meanwhile, sought to leverage the speed of Iranian forward Sardar Azmoun and managed to produce the first shot on goal in the 38th-minute of a mostly lackluster first half.
The Premier League side came to life after the break with offensive sparks provided by Hakim Ziyech, Mason Mount and even center back Antonio Rudiger, who nearly tallied the goal of the match with a run from his side of the field to the Zenit area and a right-footed blast that went a couple of meters wide of the far post.
Zenit Saint Petersburg, for their part, nearly got the equalizer after Lukaku’s goal when substitute Artem Dzyuba received a cross from Azmoun but pushed his attempt just wide of the post.
“We struggled a bit to create chances and shots in the first half,” Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel said after the match played in front of nearly 40,000 fans. “In the second half it was a bit easier to find space and shoot. It was a deserved win. Hard earned.”
The 28-year-old Lukaku, who is back at Stamford Bridge (where he played early in his career) after Chelsea forked out a club record 97.5-million-pound ($135 million) transfer fee to acquire him from Inter Milan, credited Azpilicueta for sending in a “beautiful ball” to set up the game’s only goal.
With their win, Chelsea are now in second place in Group H behind Juventus, who defeated Malmo 3-0 on Tuesday and have the edge in goal differential.
Semak said of his players that they “allowed Chelsea more than we should have after the interval.”
“We had a great chance at the end and didn’t take it,” the Zenit manager said. “It’s still a fair result. Chelsea were the better team and deserved to win. But overall we had a good game, especially defensively.” EFE