In recent weeks it has become fashionable to doubt why Chelsea broke their transfer record for Romelu Lukaku.
Was it an instinctive glamour addition rather than one of actual need? Chelsea were already European Champions under Thomas Tuchel. Why did their attack need any more investment? Lukaku’s strengths don’t suit Chelsea’s style.
Boxing Day should be remembered as the evening the £98m questions were emphatically answered.
In 45 minutes, Lukaku disrupted Aston Villa’s defence, scored a vital header. In the 92nd minute, Lukaku charged forward with opposing bodies falling around him and won the Blues a penalty that clinched arguably the most important points of Chelsea’s league season.
“I think I needed a performance like this.” Was Lukaku’s verdict when speaking to Sky Sports after being awarded the man of the match award for only one half of football.
The need for Lukaku to click into gear has only grown in desperation over recent weeks as Chelsea’s title challenge has been pierced and undermined.
The level of pressure on this game was heightened when Reece James header to defend a Matt Targett cross disastrously looped over Edouard Mendy for a calamitous opening goal.
Aston Villa had won their last three Boxing Day fixtures before this one, Chelsea had not won on on this day since 2018 under Maurizio Sarri.
Soon the ghosts of Christmas past were all conspiring to make this a sadly defining evening in the season for Tuchel.
For all of the Blues possession in the opening exchanges, the actual danger from that territory appeared futile against an organised Villa who looked to counter precisely.
But the introduction of Lukaku completely altered the contest.
Suddenly Tyrone Mings was panicked when crosses started to be flung into the box. His physical dominance to hold up the ball brought more Chelsea bodies forward, pushing Villa deeper towards their own box.
Demonstrated by Lukaku winning the most aerial duels for any Chelsea player in only 45 minutes.
The almost instantaneous connection with Callum Hudson-Odoi, a creative force who has rarely been able to play alongside Lukaku due to the striker’s injury and COVID absence. Both provided evidence of how Tuchel could find a solution to his attacking woes.
Having only one shot, one shot on target and one goal feel very reminiscent of the last clash with Villa in September. The last time Lukaku scored a Premier League goal since returning.
He still might be feeding on scraps, but that proved enough for a finisher of Lukaku’s level.
His exhilarating charge forward in the dying moments to win a penalty was inspirational, a moment of decisive leadership when Chelsea was being forced to sit deeper with fears that another lead could slip.
An Aston Villa equaliser in added time would have proved fatal, eight points behind a rampant Manchester City who have only gained speed over the festive period.
This night showcased why Chelsea broke their transfer record when for years at this period of the season. Any title hopes have quickly capitulated in part to poor finishing, and their investment paid dividends.
Tuchel’s proactive move to bring Lukaku on at half-time was a decision that proved to define the night and will hopefully act as a significant turning point after a month of discontent.
Lukaku may not be enough to win Chelsea the title, but his involvement gives them more of a chance than they’ve had since the days of Diego Costa.
The questions over Lukaku should no longer include the word ‘why’ but ‘how’. How does Tuchel construct an attack that will recreate evenings like this on a more consistent basis?
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Source by Football London