Chelsea: Mendy; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rüdiger; James, Kovacic, Jorginho, Alonso; Mount, Ziyech; Lukaku
Subs: Kepa, Bergstrom, Silva, Sarr, Chilwell, Werner, Loftus-Cheek, Chalobah, Saul Niguez, Barkley, Hudson-Odoi, Havertz
Zenit: Kritsyuk; Sutormin, Christakov, Rakitskyy, Douglas Santos; Malcolm, Wendel, Barrios, Kuzaev, Claudinho; Azmoun
Subs: Kerzhakov, Odoevski, Krugovoi, Mostovy, Erokhin, Dzyuba, Kravtsov, Khotulev
Referee: B Frankowski
Hello and welcome to the start of Chelsea’s attempt to match the feats of grand clubs such as Nottingham Forest, Ajax and Benfica by defending their European crown. Chelsea’s only previous effort brought abysmal failure, as they were ousted at the group stage and their manager, Roberto Di Matteo, was given the heave-ho even before the end of that. En garde, Herr Tuchel!
That said, this Chelsea side is very different to the one that lifted the Champions League trophy in 2012. Back then, the team were reaching the end of a cycle, and Didier Drogba departed soon after. By contrast, this Chelsea team is on the rise, last season’s Champions League triumph heralding the start of a new era of conquest rather than a culmination; and they are driven by a striker, Romelu Lukaku, at the peak of his powers and served by a glittering cast of creators. Chelsea have the most complete squad in England, a savvy manager and a seriously ominous look about them.
As for Zenit St Petersburg, since beating Rangers in the 2008 Uefa Cup and Manchester United in that year’s Super Cup, they’ve made frustratingly little headway in Europe. They’ve got out of the Champions League group stages three times but then fallen each time in the next round – once to Dortmund and twice to the good old Benfica. They finished bottom of their group in each of the last two seasons. But they have started their domestic league well – top after seven matches – and can stoke themselves with tales of their only previous victory away to English opposition. Remember that? Of course you do, it was against Bradford City in the 2000 Intertoto Cup. Humdinger ahoy!