Two Chelsea players fail to link-up, while Lukaku dilemma emerges: Three things learned from Chelsea v Zenit

Chelsea kick-started their journey to retain the Champions League trophy in rather unconvincing fashion against Zenit St Petersburg last night.

A 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge over their Russian guests didn’t exactly send waves of fear across Europe.

To Zenit’s credit, they stuck to a game plan that frustrated and disturbed Thomas Tuchel’s men.

If it hadn’t been for the forehead of Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea’s charge towards continental dominance would have been halted from the get-go.

Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

But what can be learned from the Blues latest, somewhat lackluster exhibition?

Here are three things we took away from yesterday’s performance:

Cannot always rely on Lukaku

Ask almost anyone that did not attend the Zenit fixture who scored for Chelsea and their response would be united.

Lukaku’s second-half header proved to be the most significant moment of the match, one that was admittedly absent of much entertainment.

He hardly had a sniff of the ball all evening, mainly owed to his teammate’s struggles in possession.

But when the chance arrived – a delicious Cesar Azpilicueta delivery – the 28-year-old was on hand and on head to save the day.

Photo by Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images

But how often can Chelsea depend upon the big man to salvage results as he did on Tuesday?

Based on the number of times he will be used this season, probably quite a lot.

However, what about the occasions Lukaku is not involved, or worse, injured?

Then who do Chelsea turn to? Unfortunately, the goalscoring options beyond the striker are pretty limited.

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

That was extremely evident last year, an issue the Belgian was brought back to resolve.

Yet, with Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud no longer part of the squad, Tuchel cannot call upon a traditional centre-forward as backup.

Perhaps instead of recruiting a new defender in the next transfer window, the Blues should look for another attacking weapon to support Lukaku.

Front line still undecided

If sorting out a replacement for Lukaku is an issue, then deciding the two to play alongside or behind him is an absolute minefield.

Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech were given the reigns in attempting to supply the no.9 with opportunities versus Zenit.

Neither managed to provide any meaningful service to the target man, eventually leaving the reasonability to Azpilicueta.

Mount and Ziyech struggled to combine as a pair, often miss placing passes or overhitting crosses.

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Kai Havertz came into the equation late on, whilst Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi remained on the bench.

So who is the best duo to serve with Lukaku? That question is still seriously unclear.

Christian Pulisic remains on the treatment table, giving Tuchel even more food for thought.

Rudiger the real deal

On a more positive note, Antonio Rudiger highlighted once again why he is one of Chelsea’s most influential members of the squad.

His lengthy, long-legged run and ballooned shot gave just a snippet into the German’s desire to win every football match.

It was an act of craziness, as Frank Leboeuf described it, that no other in a dark blue jersey tried against Zenit.

Photo by Chloe Knott – Danehouse/Getty Images

Sometimes that’s all a crowd needs to get the energy and atmosphere circulating again.

Thankfully for the Bridge faithful, Rudiger provides an instant of madness almost once a game.

That, coupled with his outstanding defending, makes him a wonderful actor to watch.

How can Chelsea even consider letting him go in January? A query that must be resolved before his contract runs out next summer.

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Nathaniel is a football journalist who graduated from the University of Derby. He has worked at Burton Albion as part of their media team for two years. Nathaniel produces regular articles for the club’s official website and match-day programme. He covered the 2018 U20 Women’s World Cup in Brittany and has reported from grounds ranging from non-league up to the Premier League.