Romelu Lukaku struck on his return to Stamford Bridge as ruthless Chelsea defeated a wasteful Aston Villa side in the Premier League.
The Blues almost took the lead when Callum Hudson-Odoi’s in-swinging corner evaded everyone in the box, and it took a miraculous touch from Ezri Konsa to divert the ball onto the crossbar.
But the hosts opened the scoring soon afterwards when Mateo Kovacic’s sensational pass found Lukaku and the striker cut inside Axel Tuanzebe before firing past stand-in Villa goalkeeper Jed Steer.
Villa were bright despite conceding the early goal and Ollie Watkins was denied twice, first from goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and then by defender Thiago Silva on the line, in an impressive first-half performance from Dean Smith’s side.
Tyrone Mings’ back-pass minutes into the second half proved costly, however, as Kovacic produced a wonderful chipped finish to double Chelsea’s lead, before Lukaku added late gloss with a thunderous second strike. Here are five things we learned.
Romelu Lukaku gives Chelsea clinical edge
Chelsea were arguably second-best in the first half at Stamford Bridge but took a lead into the break thanks to a clinical finish from Romelu Lukaku.
Kovacic’s through pass was perfect, and is an early contender for assist of the season, but Lukaku still had a lot of work to do before dancing past Tuanzebe and sending Steer the wrong way with a composed finish inside the near post.
It was the type of opportunity that Chelsea made a habit of passing up last season. Timo Werner provided a similar threat in behind the defence, if he had managed to stay onside, but the German’s struggles in front of goal were well documented.
Lukaku is a different calibre of striker and has certainly given Chelsea that cutting edge, which was illustrated by the fact that Thomas Tuchel’s side took a 1-0 lead into half-time, despite only having one shot on target.
Kovacic took inspiration from Lukaku as he doubled Chelsea’s lead with a rare goal, in what was only Chelsea’ second shot on target at that point, while Lukaku offered the gunpowder to go with his movement for a cracking third in stoppage time.
The European champions weren’t at their best against a good Villa side, but with Lukaku up and running they didn’t need to be to still earn three points.
Aston Villa left to rue missed chances
Aston Villa were by far the better team in the opening 45 minutes but were made to pay for missing all of their nine first-half shots and they only had themselves to blame as they left Stamford Bridge having suffered defeat.
A bold team selection from Villa boss Smith was key to their first-half dominance. Villa hadn’t played with five defenders at the back in over a year but the formation allowed Smith to start his two strikers in Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins, while midfielders John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey unsettled Chelsea as they constantly hassled and harried the hosts.
Villa gave an early demonstration of the threat playing with two forwards provided when McGinn robbed Trevoh Chalobah of possession and suddenly gave Smith’s side the two-on-two opportunity. Had Ings’ pass to strike partner Watkins been better than the visitors could have quite easily taken the lead at Stamford Bridge, and it set the tone for what was to come.
Watkins was denied on two further occasions that both came from Villa turnovers, as the visitors continued to pass up chances. They deserved to be at least level at the break, but Mings’ error shortly after half-time only compounded their wasted chances. It gave Smith’s side too much to do.
Saul Niguez struggles on Chelsea debut
Saul had a difficult afternoon and was replaced at half time
As Premier League debuts go, Saul Niguez’s first appearance in a Chelsea shirt was one to forget. The Spaniard, who arrived on loan from Atletico Madrid on deadline day, was hooked after just 45 minutes after he was given a torrid time from Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge.
The midfielder was still settling into his surroundings when he dawdled on the ball and Jacob Ramsey robbed him of possession. It came to nothing but it set the tone for what was a difficult afternoon for the 24-year-old.
Saul gave the ball away on two further occasions and was fortunate that Villa didn’t take the lead through one of the turnovers. First it was McGinn who nipped in to steal the ball as Saul looked to turn on the edge of the penalty area, and it took some last-ditch defending from Thiago Silva on the line to deny Watkins. He gave the ball away for a third time when he passed straight to Ings, but again Villa couldn’t take advantage.
Thomas Tuchel had clearly seen enough and when Jorginho was seen warming up at half time, there was no doubt who he was coming on for. Sure enough, Saul’s number was raised. On a more positive note, at least things can only improve from here.
Chelsea changes underline squad depth
Tuchel made six changes to the side who started the 1-1 draw at Liverpool before the international break, but the fact that his starting 11 remained so strong spoke of the unprecedented strength in depth that the German has at his disposal at Stamford Bridge.
So, too, was the sight of Chelsea’s stacked bench, with five players who started May’s Champions League final win over Manchester City included on the bench, with Jorginho, Mason Mount and Cesar Azpilicueta all rested.
Amongst the Chelsea changes included a rare start for Callum Hudson-Odoi. The 20-year-old was rumoured to be close to the exit door at Stamford Bridge on transfer deadline day, but the absence of the suspended Reece James opened up an opportunity for him at right wing-back.
While it wasn’t a bad performance from the England youth international, he will perhaps be frustrated that he didn’t make the most of the opportunity, his first in the Premier League so far this season. Hakim Ziyech also had the chance to feature from the start but he couldn’t get himself into the game.
Ollie Watkins bright on first start of the season
He will be disappointed he didn’t covert either of his first chances, but this was an encouraging performance from Watkins on his first start of the season for Villa.
The arrival of Ings has meant that the 25-year-old is likely to play further to the left this season, and the former Brentford forward was bright as he drifted into those areas in Villa’s two-man attack.
He forced a smart save from the excellent Mendy at the his near-post before he rounded the goalkeeper only to see his shot blocked by Thiago Silva on the line. Certainly, there were plenty of signs to suggest that he will add to last season’s tally of 14 goals, even if his breakthrough strike of the campaign avoided him here.
On a more general note, Villa will be disappointed to have only picked up one win in their first four games of the season, as the club look to move following the departure of Jack Grealish.
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