2 things Tuchel got right and 2 he got wrong as Lukaku helps Chelsea beat Zenit

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Romelu Lukaku continued his fine start to his second coming at Chelsea as the Blues did enough to edge past Zenit St Petersburg 1-0 on Tuesday night.

Chelsea began the night by accepting awards for their Champions League triumph in May, but they struggled to find rhythm against a stubborn Zenit defence.

Having failed to trouble the visiting goalkeeper in the first half, Chelsea picked up the pace after the break and broke the deadlock through a familiar route.

Cesar Azpilicueta picked out Lukaku with a cross and the Belgian striker made it four goals in his first four Chelsea games this season with a downward header.

Artem Dzyuba nearly equalised, poking a low cross from Sardar Azmoun wide on the stretch, but Chelsea did enough to open their campaign with a win.

Here is what Thomas Tuchel did right – and what he could have done better – against the Russian side.

Too rigid in tactical approach

One of Tuchel’s undeniable strengths since taking over from Frank Lampard as Chelsea manager in January has been his clear tactical approach.

Every time you watch the Blues, you know what their manager wants from them; there is rarely any confusion on the pitch because every player knows their role inside out.

However, watching the first half at Stamford Bridge you couldn’t help but wonder if Chelsea could benefit from a change in shape.

As ever, the home side lined up with a three-man defence, with Marcos Alonso and Reece James as wing-backs and Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech as “half-strikers”, as their manager termed them in his pre-match interview.

Chelsea could not break down Zenit, who sat deep in a 5-4-1 formation and conceded no space centrally. The hosts went in at the break without having registered a shot on target.

Taking off Ziyech

Chelsea improved after the break, finally firing some shots in at goal, but now matter what they did Ziyech could not affect the game.

The Moroccan hit one weak shot from the edge of the box and failed to make the most of another opening before Tuchel made the call the crowd had been asking for.

Kai Havertz had been warming up patiently on the touchline when he got the nod from his manager in the 63rd minute.

The Blues immediately looked more dangerous with the gangly German attacker providing more of an element of surprise to the home team’s play.

Can Chelsea defend their Champions League title this season? Have your say in the comments section below.

Sticking with Lukaku

A midweek Champions League tie at home to a side who had lost their last five away games in the competition may have looked like an opportunity for rotation to some managers.

But Tuchel is not your ordinary coach. While Mount and Ziyech were brought in, alongside Andreas Christensen and Azpilicueta, the Chelsea boss did not drop his talisman.

Timo Werner remained on the bench, with Lukaku keeping his place at centre-forward. After 69 minutes we saw why.

Azpilicueta’s cross was well measured, but it was Lukaku’s game awareness, movement and physical strength which ensured he got onto the end of it.

Not starting Chilwell

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Having praised Tuchel for sticking rather than twisting up front, there is an argument he should have done the opposite at left wing-back.

Alonso has emerged as a Tuchel favourite this season, starting every game so far this season.

Ben Chilwell was bought for £50million last summer, yet has endured a difficult start to the season, having not played a single minute for club or country since the Champions League final in May.

Tuchel addressed the 24-year-old’s situation in the pre-match press conference, suggesting Chilwell’s confidence had been knocked by his experience with England at Euro 2020.

Yet, despite acknowledging the problem, he did not give Chilwell a start. The former Leicester defender came on in the 82nd minute as a substitute, but given Alonso offered little, it felt like an opportunity missed.

  • Chelsea FC
  • Thomas Tuchel

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