We begin our second ever Champions League campaign as defending champions with the express intent to not repeat history from nine years ago. In 2012, Chelsea’s group stage campaign ended with a sacking and a drop down into the Europa League, and while we’d go on to win that as well, it wasn’t anyone’s intention when we set out that season. The one player who remains from that squad, Captain César Azpilicueta, underlined this desire to follow-up last season’s massive triumph with continued success.
“It was a tough moment [in 2012] to be out at the group stage after being the Champions. I am the only one in the squad still but I will try to help with this experience to make sure it doesn’t happen again. As I said before, we are the Champions so we start from zero. This is a new challenge, we have tough opponents and we have to be ready for it.”
-César Azpilicueta; source: Football.London
The first of those tough opponents are back-to-back-to-back Russian Premier League champions Zenit St Petersburg.
Date / Time: Tuesday, September 14, 2021, 20.00 BST; 3pm EDT; 12:30am IST (next day)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Bartosz Frankowski (on pitch); Marco Fritz (VAR)
Forecast: Rain showers
On TV: BT Sport 2 (UK); Galavision (USA); Sony TEN 1 (India); Canal+ Sport 5, SuperSport PSL (NGA); elsewhere
Streaming: BT Sport Live (UK); Paramount+; Unision Now (USA); Sony LIV (India); DStv Now (NGA)
Chelsea team news: N’Golo Kanté is close, but we’re playing it safe with his return. Christian Pulisic is not close. Fortunately, they’re the only two players out, with those who got a rest over the weekend following international break exertions (Mason Mount, for example) surely set to return to the lineup before the weekend’s big derby at Spurs. The expanded bench (12 players) should also see a few fringe players pop into our view, however briefly.
It’s been a good and unbeaten start to the season, with one trophy in the book already, even, but this is where the grind and the fixture congestion begins. It’s about to get serious!
Zenit St Petersburg team news: Zenit won their third title on the bounce last season and are once again leading the Russian Premier League after seven unbeaten rounds (5 wins, 2 draws). In fact, they haven’t lost a match in any competition since early March. They may have come out of Pot 3 in the draw, but they won’t be pushovers.
Iranian international Sardar Azmoun leads the team in goalscoring, though veteran forward Artem Dzyuba, who’s reached the 20-goal mark each of the past two seasons, is unlikely to stay scoreless. Zenit are chock-full of experienced players in fact, including defender Yaroslay Rakitskiy, who played against Chelsea in the aforementioned 2012-13 group stages with Shakhar (and beat us in one of the two games, even).
Unlike for much of the past decade, they have no direct Chelsea connections, having released Yuri Zhirkov over the summer. Branislav Ivanović played at Zenit for several seasons in recent years as well, while they were coached by a certain Andre Villas-Boas from 2014 to 2016. Their current head coach is former Russia international midfielder Sergey Semak. He was part of the CSKA Moscow team we faced during the 2004-05 group stages (and beat twice).
Previously: We’ve never met Zenit in a competitive match, so let’s re-live last season’s winning run just this one time.