Chelsea beat Zenit St Petersburg 1-0 at Stamford Bridge thanks to a Romelu Lukaku goal to re-establish their Champions League defense.
After brushing off three touch-tight Zenit defenders, the Belgian converted captain Cesar Azpilicueta’s looping far-post cross with a spectacular header.
If Artem Dzyuba had slotted the ball home for Zenit from a few yards out late in the game, the outcome would have been drastically different.
But Chelsea escaped unscathed, to swipe three important points from the opening Group H encounter.
A belated UEFA individual awards presentation ceremony before kick-off whipped up a victory parade atmosphere in west London.
Thomas Tuchel received his UEFA manager of the year gong for the last term, with Edouard Mendy presented his trophy for goalkeeper of the year.
Jorginho finally got his hands on his player of the season silverware too, as the Blues paid reverence to last term’s Champions League triumph.
The visitors ultimately had the most credible half-chance before the break despite minimal possession. Reece James lifted the ball off Claudinho’s toe, however, to ease the danger.
Hakim Ziyech struck Chelsea’s first shot on target shortly after half-time, but it took a mammoth run from Toni Rudiger to lift the crowd.
The German defender cantered 70 yards into the Zenit box, before lashing a shot wildly wide. Once the gritty center-back had found that position, he should truly have hit the target.
But the resolve to run all but the length of the field proved enough to get the home faithful on their feet.
Mateo Kovacic threaded a lovely ball to Ziyech but Morocco forward could not pick out anyone in the center of the box.
James then tiptoed around the back of Zenit’s defense but could not test Stanislav Kritsyuk in the visitors’ goal.
As Chelsea pressed and lost an edge of control, Sardar Azmoun almost sneaked through on goal – with Rudiger required to blast away to safety.
Just as the Blues’ nerves started to twitch for a breakthrough though, up popped Lukaku with a fine-headed finish.
Azpilicueta’s hanging far-post cross begged to be turned home but still required an inch-perfect contact.
Not even the posse of three Zenit defenders swarming him could deny Lukaku however, with the talisman striker nodding the ball out of everyone’s reach and into the net.
Replacement forward Dzyuba should have found the net when sliding in towards a low center that left him in a heap with Mendy.
His miss proved the closest Zenit could come to opening up the Blues, with the hosts negotiating the final stages to seal the win.