Romelu Lukaku’s late arrival propels Chelsea to victory over Aston Villa | premier league
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It was a way for Romelu Lukaku to reintroduce himself. He returned from an ankle injury in style, heading coolly before running halfway to earn a stoppage time at Aston Villa to help Chelsea secure a well-deserved victory. Thomas Tuchel certainly tested the game in the turf here – rebounding in frustration as Chelsea followed an own goal in the first half by Reece James – but at the end of the game he could consider himself happy, a first victory in three-game championship ensuring his team move up to the level of Liverpool, who have one game in hand, and can still spy on leaders Manchester City one afternoon when those below them in the table have picked up speed.
In the absence of Steven Gerrard, who had to watch from home after testing positive for the coronavirus, it was up to his assistants, Gary McAllister and Michael Beale, to lead Villa’s pace. Villa didn’t lack momentum at first, with Ollie Watkins nagging and cutting James’ pass in seconds and Tuchel soon contorted on the sideline like Christian Pulisic – whom the manager had warned he was “fighting for. Confidence ”in the No. 9 role that he again started in – worked to squeeze the awesome Douglas Luiz. Villa was lively, Chelsea by far the second best. Thiago Silva had to stay vigilant to keep Watkins from getting in for Danny Ings at the far post, then Ings saw a shot blocked by Silva after Matty Cash juggled the ball halfway.
Tuchel, his hands clasped, looked a little worried. Douglas Luiz delivered an exquisite half-volley pass over the Chelsea defense for Watkins to gallop over, only for Trevor Chalobah to make a smart block. Mason Mount shook the crossbar, his overcooked right foot cross from the left prompting Emiliano Martínez to hastily back down, but Villa rightly took the lead as the half hour approached, albeit via a player in bright yellow. Matt Targett sent a flat cross for the first time from the left and James inadvertently glanced at the ball and he whistled at unsuspecting Edward Mendy, who undoubtedly had flashbacks to the winner of West Ham earlier this month.
Chelsea were rambling and unconvincing going forward, but Cash then hung up a lifeline. The rear of the Villa was taken from the wrong side of Callum Hudson-Odoi and rudely cut off on his heels. Cash knew he had no reason to complain and Jorginho casually sent Martínez the wrong way from the penalty spot. Villa fashioned a few more openings ahead of the break – Ings hesitated after hanging on to a nice pass outside the boot by the relentless Watkins, moments later Chalobah denied the striker a clean shot on goal – but they were overpowered after Lukaku’s half-hour introduction.
Lukaku provided Chelsea with a welcome focal point and lifted Chelsea to the top within 11 minutes of entering. Villa ignored the warning signs. Mount sent a cross from the right, which slipped past Lukaku’s lurking forehead by a few millimeters, but soon after, Chelsea activated another line of attack. Hudson-Odoi, on the left flank, cut his right foot and curled an inviting cross into the box. Lukaku wasn’t disturbed by Tyrone Mings’ feeble attempts to make life difficult and peeked into the far corner. Tuchel calmly clenched his fist and Lukaku walked away in celebration.
Despite all Villa’s enthusiasm at first, they seemed to be running out of steam. Even Watkins had fallen a bit flat. Midfielder Morgan Sanson, who made his first start since April, was replaced by Anwar El Ghazi with 15 minutes left, when Bertrand Traoré and Carney Chukwuemeka had already been welcomed onto the pitch. Mount missed a wonderful opportunity to extend Chelsea’s advantage, missing out wide with the gaping goal after passing the ball past Martínez, but Jorginho inflated the score in stoppage time.
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