Romelu Lukaku’s impact on Chelsea hasn’t been hard to spot, having scored four goals in the four games he’s played since his return, but as Thomas Tuchel explained after last night’s narrow victory over Russian Premier League champions Zenit St Petersburg, the 28-year-old striker’s influence extends well beyond just the pitch.
“He was the type of guy that we were missing in our team, the profile, but not only for the talent but also for his personality. He is a super humble guy, he loves football, he loves to train. He is such a good communicator in the dressing room, he is open to everybody and that creates a certain atmosphere and energy around him and within the team.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: Chelsea FC
It’s those things that we don’t get to see, like communication in the dressing room, that often make the biggest difference. Case in point, the combination that created the game’s only goal (Lukaku’s first in the Champions League for Chelsea) was something the two principals involved in it discussed at half-time. Gotta love it when a plan comes together!
“I’m used to playing against a team with a back five: in Italy most of the teams play with a back five. So we agreed at half-time to do some kind of movements from the side and the ball from Azpi was brilliant. I just had to get the timing right...”
-Romelu Lukaku; source: UEFA
Antonio Conte was surely smiling to himself on some picturesque Italian beach when he saw that goal.
Zenit’s 5-4-1 setup was not necessarily what we had prepared for, but we maintained control of the game, made some adjustments, and eventually got the one moment of quality needed to reward our patience and perseverance. It may not be a game to live long, if at all, in our memories, but it’s a good first step in this season’s Champions League group stage, and it keeps the momentum going into the weekend’s showdown against Spurs.
“We kept the game under control. We have to keep growing. I think today was a better performance than on the weekend. I’m really happy with the win and really happy with the goal.
“[Tuchel wanted] a little bit of movement in the middle of the pitch, try to create chances through me holding the ball and putting players or through crosses. That’s what we did and eventually we scored a goal from that.”
Over the weekend, Tuchel talked about our ability to find solutions even in tough situations, and last night’s victory was another good example of that. We were presented with a very different challenge than in recent games, but we got the goal, kept the clean, and got the three points.
Job done, and on to the next one.