The reigning Champions of Europe are set to embark on their new Champions League campaign with a group stage fixture against Zenit St Petersburg. A stat which surprised me was that Chelsea have never faced Zenit in competitive action, but the last time Chelsea faced a Russian opponent in the Champions League, we went on to win the whole thing (I can’t rinse that enough).
Chelsea head into the game with serious momentum after four league games, sitting pretty in 2nd, level on points with Manchester United. Our opponents, however, happen to be on a 20 game unbeaten streak, dating back to March. Despite being the favourites for the game, Chelsea have a huge task at hand to put this tremendous run to a stop.
The opening game of the Champions League group stage can always be tricky, and it is vital that Chelsea get off to a winning start, given our second game being Juventus away on the 29th.
Player news and updates:
Nothing changes from the Villa game, with Tuchel confirming that just N’Golo Kante and Christian Pulisic will miss the game against Zenit, with Kante still nursing an ankle injury, and Puli still recovering from Covid.
‘We said that we were looking for him [Pulisic] to return after the international break and for him to have that period of 10 days of training and recovery before returning to the pitch. He’s still in a state of recovery and individual training, so he is not ready just yet.’Thomas Tuchel via Chelseafc.com
As for NG, it looks as if Tuchel is saving him for the London Derby this coming weekend.
‘N’Golo had two training sessions yesterday and trained again today, but the Champions League game comes a bit too early for him. We won’t take the risk with him now at this moment of the season.
‘We have decided to give him another load in training tomorrow, then he will have the day off with the rest of the group and then train with us all on Friday to be ready totally for Tottenham on Sunday.’Thomas Tuchel via Chelseafc.com
As for the rest of the squad, Tuchel revealed that Loftus-Cheek, Barkley and Maalang Sarr have all travelled and may be seen from the bench.
Chalobah, Silva, Rudiger
James, Kovacic, Jorginho, Chilwell
Ziyech, Lukaku, Werner
I struggled to leave Mount out of the side, given he was fully rested on Saturday against Villa, however, I can see Hakim and Timo both starting, and I dont expect to see him in the pivot. I do however, expect to see Lukaku keep his place, but I would only give him 60 or so minutes to ensure he stays fit for Tottenham on Sunday. Kepa also makes the cut in place of Mendy.
Players to watch:
Timo Werner: Timo hasn’t featured much this season, and I think this game could suit him very well. Timo has the ability to run in behind defences, and given the lack of pace that Zenit have at the back, this could work very well for Chelsea’s number 11. Timo also has a point to prove to Thomas Tuchel, and will be keen on grabbing a goal or two to increase his chances of starting against Spurs.
Dejan Lovren: Lovren knows what it takes to win the Champions League, as the Croatian secured the big one with Liverpool in 2019. Lovren will have a key battle on his hands with Lukaku, Werner, or whoever starts in the three for Chelsea, so it will be interesting to see how he matches up against the in-form Blues.
Chelsea 3-0 Zenit
Werner, Lukaku, Chilwell
Written by @mashgreaves