Chelsea 1-0 Zenit: Lukaku the difference as Champions League holders grind out victory

By Sports Desk September 14, 2021

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 have only lost their first game of the subsequent campaign on two of 27 previous occasions. 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.

Related items

  • Elliott pens new long-term contract with Liverpool Elliott pens new long-term contract with Liverpool

    Liverpool have announced Harvey Elliott has signed a fresh long-term contract with the club, reportedly running until 2027.

    The 19-year-old only penned his previous deal last year and fresh terms come due to his continued development, which has seen him become established in Jurgen Klopp's first-team plans.

    "It's always nice to know that I'm going to be here for many more years, which is always a great thing with it being my boyhood club and there is nothing in this world that makes me more happy and more excited than this," he told the club's official website.

    Arriving at the club from Fulham in 2019, Elliott caught the eye during a loan spell with Blackburn Rovers in the 2020-21 season and begun to make an impact in the first team at the start of last season.

    The teenager missed a large chunk of the campaign after sustaining an injury against Leeds United in September, marking his return with a goal in the FA Cup against Cardiff City in March.

    Elliott came off the bench in the Carabao Cup final victory over Chelsea, scoring in the penalty shoot-out, and was introduced as a substitute in last weekend's 2-2 draw with his former club Fulham.

  • Serie A 2022-23: Inter favourites to regain title – Stats Perform AI predicts Serie A 2022-23: Inter favourites to regain title – Stats Perform AI predicts

    Serie A returns on Saturday, with Milan looking to retain their title after a first Scudetto triumph in 11 years.

    The Rossoneri have brought in Belgium duo Charles De Ketelaere and Divock Origi to bolster Stefano Pioli's squad as they prepare to face another challenge from rivals Inter.

    Simone Inzaghi will have his own Belgium international striker Romelu Lukaku to call on again after he was brought back on loan from Chelsea.

    How will those clubs fare, who is likely to be their closest challengers, and who will be fearing the drop from Italy's top flight?

    Stats Perform AI has predicted the outcome of the campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

    These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and have thrown up some interesting results, with a heavy favourite for top spot.

    INTER TO TAKE THEIR TITLE BACK WITH FAMILIAR FACE ON BOARD

    In the end, there were just two points in it.

    A fascinating battle between Milan and Inter last season saw Pioli's men edge the title with 86 points after a 3-0 win at Sassuolo on the final day.

    Despite the impressive way Milan closed out that title, the data makes Inter 47.97 per cent favourites to regain it in 2022-23.

    The return of Lukaku is likely to be a big reason for that, with the 29-year-old having scored 47 goals in 72 Serie A games prior to joining Chelsea last year, and he played a major part in Inter's Scudetto win in 2020-21.

    Milan's chances are surprisingly not even second best, with the data suggesting there is a 16.43 per cent likelihood of them retaining their title, with Juventus judged to have a slightly better 17.93 per cent chance.

    Napoli are deemed to have a 13.75 per cent chance, with no other team being considered to have any more than a two per cent chance, including Jose Mourinho's Roma at 1.99 per cent.

    TOP FOUR FIGHT EXPECTED TO BE MORE OF THE SAME

    There was very little drama in the race for the Champions League spots last season, with Napoli and Juventus well out of the title fight but clear of fifth place with multiple games to go.

    Stats Perform AI expects the same four teams to take up those spots again, albeit in a different order, with Juve in second, Milan third and Napoli fourth.

    The positive numbers for the Bianconeri are likely to be a result of Serbia striker Dusan Vlahovic having a full season to lead the line, along with big name additions of Paul Pogba and Angel Di Maria.

    Napoli could be the most at risk after losing several key players since the end of last season, including Kalidou Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne and Dries Mertens, but they are still given a 73.09 per cent chance of Champions League qualification.

    In the chasing pack, Roma are given a 30.18 per cent chance of a top four spot and Stats Perform AI believes Mourinho's men are the likeliest team to finish in one of the two Europa League places, with no team given a greater chance than the Giallorossi's 19.58 per cent.

    Atalanta have a 20.64 per cent chance of getting back into the top four, though are still deemed likely to improve on last season's eighth place as favourites for sixth and qualification for the Europa League (18.56 per cent).

    That leaves Lazio with a 17.09 per cent chance of seventh and a Europa Conference League spot, though Fiorentina (11.10), Hellas Verona (8.45) and Sassuolo (8.34) are not counted out entirely.

    CREMONESE UNLIKELY TO RISE TO THE TOP

    It is not too much of a surprise to see the promoted teams are predicted to be facing a tough task to stay up.

    Cremonese are the favourites for the drop at 63.41 per cent, with Lecce (47.10 per cent) also expected to head back to Serie B at the end of the campaign.

    Second favourites for relegation, though, are last year's 17th place team Salernitana, who avoided relegation by a single point ahead of Cagliari. Davide Nicola's side are handed a 58.10 per cent chance of failing to escape this time.

    Monza came up through the play-offs and have made a number of new signings, including former Inter players Andrea Ranocchia and Stefano Sensi, which could be why they are given just a 27.92 per cent chance of going back down, slightly ahead of Empoli at 25.17 per cent.

    Only four teams are given a zero per cent chance of relegation, which unsurprisingly is last season's top four.

  • LaLiga 2022-23: Real Madrid still the team to beat – Stats Perform AI predicts LaLiga 2022-23: Real Madrid still the team to beat – Stats Perform AI predicts

    LaLiga, home to the European champions, returns on Friday for another season.

    Real Madrid ended the previous campaign by winning the Champions League, the prize they covet most, but it was also a successful year in domestic action.

    Carlo Ancelotti's men eased to a record-extending 35th league title by 13 points – that is the gap Barcelona have sought to bridge in the transfer market during the close season. So, just how successfully have they done that?

    Stats Perform AI has predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

    These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and have thrown up some interesting results, with Barca seemingly left still with plenty to do.

    MADRID MAINTAIN BUFFER TO BARCA

    Given their 35 titles, given their 13-point gap, given their status as European champions, it is surely no surprise Madrid are considered the clear favourites to scoop Spanish football's top prize once again.

    The data makes Ancelotti's side 58.75 per cent favourites to retain their crown.

    Barca recovered from a dismal start last season to finish second, and they are forecast for the same result again after investing hugely in Robert Lewandowski and Co.

    But there is only a 17.0 per cent chance of the title heading to Camp Nou, with Atletico Madrid a predictable third in the rankings and rated as a 12.3 per cent shot.

    Those three clubs have accounted for the past 18 championships since Valencia finished top in 2003-04. Now, under Gennaro Gattuso, Valencia have a mere 0.08 per cent chance of returning to the summit, deemed ninth favourites among 11 teams with any hope at all.

    Sevilla (4.74 per cent) and Villarreal (4.66 per cent) are the sides most likely to upset the established order.

    PRECIOUS FOURTH PLACE UP FOR GRABS

    There realistically remains only one of the four Champions League places on offer after taking into account Madrid (95.68 per cent), Barca (79.31 per cent) and Atletico (71.56 per cent). Last season, that belonged to Sevilla.

    Yet despite Sevilla's high ceiling seeing them fourth favourites for the title, Stats Perform AI expects them to be pushed out of the top four.

    After losing defensive duo Jules Kounde and Diego Carlos, Sevilla are given a 47.45 per cent of qualifying for the Champions League, just behind former coach Unai Emery's Villarreal (48.66 per cent), who were seventh last season but reached the semi-finals of Europe's elite club competition.

    Real Sociedad (24.79 per cent) and Real Betis (20.39 per cent) are both firmly in the mix, too, although every team in the league have at least a 0.04 per cent hope of contending for Champions League glory.

    Athletic Bilbao are expected to be on the outside looking in from eighth place (7.48 per cent for Champions League, 7.42 per cent for Europa League and 10.51 per cent for Europa Conference League).

    NO ESCAPE THIS TIME FOR MALLORCA

    The fight against the drop went right to the wire last term, with three teams still in the mix on the final day.

    Granada were the surprise victims of a dramatic scrap, relegated just two weeks after winning 6-2 at Mallorca. Mallorca then earned seven points from their next three games to stay up alongside Cadiz at Granada's expense.

    That late recovery may have rescued Mallorca for another year, but Stats Perform AI predicts their LaLiga stay will last no longer than that.

    They are 41.27 per cent favourites to go down, even considered more likely for demotion than Girona (39.95), who were promoted via the play-offs.

    Real Valladolid, another promoted side, are ranked as the third relegated team (32.74 per cent), yet there is very little to choose between a clutch of clubs, with Cadiz (31.8 per cent) again at risk alongside Elche (31.48 per cent), second-tier champions Almeria (28.86 per cent) and Rayo Vallecano (27.46 per cent).

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.