Preview: Chelsea vs. Zenit St Petersburg – prediction, team news, lineups

247 News Around The World
247 News Around The World

Both boasting unbeaten records in their domestic leagues so far, Chelsea host Zenit St Petersburg on Tuesday, as the Champions League group stage returns.

Three months after the defending champions triumphed in Porto, they start their Group H campaign against a side sitting top of the Russian Premier League and aiming to improve on last year’s early exit.

Match preview

Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku on August 28, 2021 © Reuters

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.

Starting as strong favourites to progess, 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.

Zenit St Petersburg head coach Sergei Semak pictured in April 2019© Reuters

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.

Head coach Sergei Semak – a five-time national champion as a player – had previously enjoyed spells as an assistant with both Zenit and Russia before taking the top job at modest Ufa; leading them to a club record sixth-placed top-flight finish in 2018 and then becoming Zenit boss in May of that year. He has since led his current club to three successive titles and is now targeting elusive European progress as well.

The former midfielder has a tall task ahead of him, though, as the Russian champions must not only compete with Chelsea for a berth in the last 16, but also Italian giants Juventus and Swedish champions Malmo.

Of course, the ultimate dream would be leading his side out at Zenit’s imposing Saint Petersburg Arena headquarters in the Champions League final next spring. Also the venue for seven games at Euro 2020, their home ground is a stronghold for the Zenitchiki, but last year they were beaten by Borussia Dortmund, Lazio and Club Brugge away from home, as they finished last in their group.

This season, they have added a further dash of Brazilian flair to a growing collection, as Claudinho – fresh from winning Olympic gold with Brazil – recently signed up from Brasileiro upstarts RB Bragantino. The 24-year old attacking midfielder finished as joint-top scorer in Brazil’s Serie A last term, with 18 league goals, and could play an integral role as Zenit seek to survive the group stage for the first time since 2015.

Now kicking off the club’s ninth Champions League campaign proper – and a third in succession – they have reached the first knockout round in 2011-12, 2013-14 and 2015-16 but have yet to progress further.

Chelsea form (all competitions):
  • D
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • W
Zenit St Petersburg form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • D
  • W
  • W

Team News

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel gives instructions to his players on August 28, 2021© Reuters

Chelsea will start their Champions League defence without American winger Christian Pulisic, while there remain doubts over influential midfielder N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman was forced off midway through last month’s game at Liverpool with an ankle injury and has yet to return, while Pulisic is expected to stay sidelined for a few more days with an ankle knock of his own.

Defensive lynchpin Thiago Silva is available, though, after a FIFA-imposed suspension was overturned last week, and he could start in a back three for the home side.

Meanwhile, after a rare rest at the weekend, Jorginho should be joined in midfield by Mateo Kovacic, although new signing Saul Niguez is also a contender despite a difficult debut. Just days after scoring his first league goals at Stamford Bridge, the irrepressible Romelu Lukaku leads from the front.

Long linked with a move to England, Zenit’s Sardar Azmoun – with 17 goals, top scorer in the 2019-20 Russian Premier League – will start in a probable front two for the visitors. After upping his tally to 19 last term, the Iran international ended the campaign just one goal shy of his imposing strike partner Artem Dzyuba – recently dropped by Russia.

Sergei Semak’s side will travel without midfielder Magomed Ozdoyev, who injured knee ligaments eight minutes into their opening league fixture in late July and has not featured since. There are also concerns about the fitness of centre-back Dmitri Chistyakov, whose ankle injury is set to keep him out too.

Like Thiago Silva, former Barcelona winger Malcom and his teammate Claudinho were initially ruled out of the game after the Brazilian FA requested FIFA to impose bans on those who failed to report for international duty. However, on Friday evening they were given the all-clear and should now start.

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Mendy; Christensen, Silva, Rudiger; Azpilicueta, Kovacic, Jorginho, Alonso; Havertz, Lukaku, Mount

Zenit St Petersburg possible starting lineup:
Kritsyuk; Sutormin, Lovren, Rakitskiy, Santos; Erokhin, Kuzyaev, Claudinho, Malcom; Dzyuba, Azmoun

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We say: Chelsea 2-1 Zenit St Petersburg

A relatively serene start to the new season and home advantage should see Chelsea make a successful return to the competition they won in May.

Undoubtedly, as the dominant force in Russia, the visitors should pose a threat to the Blues at the back – but Zenit will again come up short away from home, as they cannot repel Lukaku and company for a full 90 minutes.

Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at are predicting under 3.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Under 3.5:data

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