Lukaku’s goal help Chelsea to win Aston Villa
This was some way for Romelu Lukaku to reintroduce himself. He returned to from an ankle injury in style, coolly heading in before running half the pitch to earn a stoppage-time penalty at Aston Villa to help Chelsea earned a much-needed victory. Thomas Tuchel certainly tested the give in the turf here – bouncing up and down in frustration as Chelsea trailed to a first-half own goal by Reece James – but by close of play he could count himself happy, a first league win in three matches ensuring his side move level with Liverpool, who have a game in hand, and can still spy leaders Manchester City on an afternoon when those below them in the table gathered speed.
In the absence of Steven Gerrard, who had to watch from home after testing positive for coronavirus, it was down to his assistants, Gary McAllister and Michael Beale, to conduct Villa’s rhythm. Villa did not lack any early momentum, Ollie Watkins harrying and cutting out James’s pass within a matter of seconds and Tuchel was soon contorting on the touchline as Christian Pulisic – whose manager had warned he was “fighting for confidence” in the No 9 role he again started in – laboured to press the impressive Douglas Luiz. Villa were lively, Chelsea very much second best. Thiago Silva had to stay alert to prevent Watkins squaring for Danny Ings at the back post and then Ings had a shot blocked by Silva after Matty Cash juggled the ball forward from halfway.
Tuchel, hands clasped together, looked a little concerned. Douglas Luiz angled an exquisite half-volleyed pass over the Chelsea defence for Watkins to gallop on to, only for Trevor Chalobah to make a smart block. Mason Mount did rattle the crossbar, his overcooked right-footed cross from the left prompting Emiliano Martínez to hastily backpedal but Villa deservedly took the lead as the half-hour mark approached, albeit via a player in luminous yellow. Matt Targett sent in a flat, first-time cross from the left and James inadvertently glanced the ball on and it whistled over the unsuspecting Édouard Mendy, who no doubt had flashbacks to West Ham’s winner earlier this month.
Chelsea were disjointed and unconvincing going forward, but then Cash dangled a lifeline. The Villa full-back was caught the wrong side of Callum Hudson-Odoi and crudely clipped at his heels. Cash knew he had no grounds for complaint and Jorginho nonchalantly sent Martínez the wrong way from the penalty spot. Villa fashioned a couple more openings before the interval – Ings dallied after latching on to a cute outside-of-the-boot pass by the relentless Watkins, moments later Chalobah denied the striker a clean shot at goal – but they were overpowered following Lukaku’s half-time introduction.
Lukaku provided Chelsea a welcome focal point and hauled Chelsea into the lead within 11 minutes of entering. Villa did not heed the warning signs. Mount sent in a cross from the right, which eluded the forehead of the lurking Lukaku by a matter of millimetres, but soon after Chelsea activated a different line of attack. Hudson-Odoi, out on the left flank, cut on to his right foot and curled an inviting cross into the box. Lukaku was unperturbed by Tyrone Mings’s feeble attempts to make life difficult and glanced a header into the far corner. Tuchel calmly clenched his fist and Lukaku wheeled away in celebration.