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Resilient defence, plus power of Romelu Lukaku, see Chelsea over the line against Zenit

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The tests keep on coming for Chelsea — and the Blues keep on coming up with the answers. In victory against a well-drilled Zenit came a warning that this is a team that will find a way.

The addition of Romelu Lukaku has given Chelsea a spectacular extra dimension — but it is not just about the £97.5million striker.

True, it is hard to imagine Chelsea winning this game without their No9, whose 69th-minute header made it four goals in as many games since his return to the club. But in winning the Champions League last season, Thomas Tuchel had already demonstrated his prowess at overcoming all kinds of opposition. In Lukaku, the German has simply added another weapon.

So, if your game-plan is to sit deep and soak up pressure against this Chelsea team, then good luck. Zenit did that for the majority of a game that sucked the life out of a long-awaited Champions League night under the lights for Chelsea fans. It was a grim spectacle but largely effective from the visitors.

However, at this level, it can take just one moment to make the difference — and when that moment fell to Lukaku, the outcome was inevitable. Rising higher than anyone else to reach Cesar Azpilicueta’s swinging cross, he headed down and past Stanislav Kritsyuk.

One attempt on target, one goal. Against Aston Villa at the weekend, it was two from two.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Of the three goals he has now scored at Stamford Bridge, he has struck with his right foot, his left and his head. One goal was on the break, one a thunderous shot from distance and last night’s a header.

There are so many ways Lukaku can hurt the opposition. Zenit denied the Belgian space to run in behind, so Azpilicueta stood one up in the box.

That is the new dimension Lukaku has added, but Chelsea’s ability to problem-solve on the job is what makes them such a daunting prospect.

Liverpool had 45 minutes with the advantage of an extra man against Tuchel’s men after Reece James was sent off just before half-time last month. But not even the Anfield roar could break down the impenetrable blue wall Chelsea erected on Merseyside.

Against Crystal Palace, in their opening game of the season, it was a demolition job — similarly at Arsenal. And after withstanding a scare against Villa, a 3-0 scoreline emphasised the ruthlessness they have added to their make-up this season.

Added to that is a defensive solidity that eclipses any team from Europe’s top five leagues since Tuchel took charge in January: a record of 23 clean sheets compared to 16 from Manchester City, their closest rivals.

Since the start of the Premier League season, they are yet to concede from open play, with Mo Salah’s penalty the only time they have been breached.

Zenit substitute Artem Dzyuba should have added to that when firing wide from inside the six-yard box late on, but on the other occasions the Russians threatened, Antonio Rudiger, James and Mateo Kovacic typified the obsessive determination of Chelsea’s players to keep the opposition out with vital interceptions.

Tuchel triumphed in Europe last season, but it is undeniable that he presides over an even stronger squad this time around.

Victory was secured without N’Golo Kante and Christian Pulisic, both injured. Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Thiago Silva were on the bench.

On the pitch, Mason Mount was as ineffective as he has been in recent memory and Hakim Ziyech peripheral, yet still Chelsea came through, no matter how difficult it proved to be.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Tuchel threw on Havertz to try to create space in the final third and it was notable that he was rising with Lukaku to meet Azpilicueta’s cross, creating a decoy to occupy Zenit’s defenders.

Had the resistance continued, Chelsea had Werner available to run at tired legs, likewise Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Ben Chilwell came on for his first minutes since May’s Champions League Final and offered fresh legs and width when replacing Marcos Alonso.

Wherever Tuchel looks, he sees answers, which is why Chelsea are such a daunting proposition.

On Sunday, it is Tottenham who will become the latest team to try to halt their charge.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves denied Tuchel a win in his first match in charge in January, with a goalless draw at the Bridge.

Perhaps he will deploy a similar game-plan this weekend.

Perhaps he will discover this is a very different Chelsea.              

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