An ultimately comfortable 3-0 victory over Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on Saturday sees Chelsea in ideal shape to begin the defence of their continental crown this week.
Returning hero Romelu Lukaku’s clinical brace – with a goal at either end of the game – helped ensure victory for Thomas Tuchel’s men, despite the Villans giving goalkeeper Edouard Mendy – who kept an English record nine clean sheets in the Champions League last season – a busy afternoon.
The Blues, therefore, have a record of three wins and a draw so far in the Premier League, and have conceded only once – again demonstrating the steely edge they have developed since Tuchel took to the dugout in January.
Upon his arrival, Chelsea went 14 games unbeaten – the longest initial run without defeat by any manager in the club’s history – and the 2020 runner-up with Paris St. Germain eventually went one better with the London club last season – helping them lift their second Champions League trophy.
Now in pursuit of a third, Chelsea have repatriated one of the world’s top attacking talents, as Lukaku comes back to England as the club’s record signing. Already, Belgium’s all-time top goalscorer – who last term netted 24 times as Inter won their first Scudetto for a decade – looks set to add the required finishing touch to a star-studded squad.
Assembled at extraordinary expense, the capital club’s playing staff features Jorginho – recently named UEFA Men’s Player of the Year – N’Golo Kante (UEFA’s top midfielder) and Mendy (Goalkeeper of the Year), while Tuchel claimed the coach’s prize.
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Starting as strong favourites to progress, then, they will be the first Chelsea side to tackle one of Russia’s grandest clubs this week, as they have never met Zenit before.
In a similar vein to their opening matchday hosts, Zenit scored three times at the weekend, as they beat Akhmat Grozny 3-1 in the Russian top flight. Goals by Brazilian pair Wendel and Malcom – plus a strike from Russia midfielder Aleksandr Yerokhin – secured another three points; helping them take an early stranglehold on a division they have dominated in recent years