Romelu Lukaku ends his Stamford Bridge goal wait with ruthless brace for Chelsea against Aston Villa
This was a day for comebacks and while the big one might have been about 160 miles north of Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s home fans were also treated to two goals from their returning hero – Romelu Lukaku.
Playing in front of the home supporters for the first time since returning to the club for £97.5million, Lukaku showed that the boy who had last played at Stamford Bridge in 2013 – as a substitute against Aston Villa – has returned very much a man.
In Lukaku, Chelsea have signed the finished product, the man to make the difference. And he did so against Villa with his first-ever Stamford Bridge goals, although Mateo Kovacic must also take huge credit for this victory.
Just as United are now pinning their hopes on Cristiano Ronaldo, Lukaku looks like the man who can be relied upon to be clinical for head coach Thomas Tuchel’s team, when the chances fall his way. In this instance, he only needed two.
Tuchel made six changes from the team that had drawn with Liverpool, but Lukaku was deemed too important to be rested.
Mason Mount, Andreas Christensen, captain Cesar Azpilicueta and Jorginho all started on the Chelsea bench following busy international schedules, but the decision to give Lukaku his Stamford Bridge return proved to be inspired.
The Belgian had Mateo Kovacic to thank for superbly setting him away in the 15th minute with a pass that cut through the Villa midfield, but then it was all about a striker at the very top of his game.
Despite the fact Axel Tuanzebe came across to cover, Lukaku never looked like doing anything but scoring and he checked inside the defender before shooting past Villa goalkeeper Jed Steer.
Just as the Manchester United fans had arrived at Old Trafford desperate to see Ronaldo get on the scoresheet, the Chelsea supporters had been desperate to see Romelu Lukaku hit the back of the net and Stamford Bridge erupted when he did.
Chelsea had already hit the crossbar before taking the lead, when Ezri Konsa almost deflected a corner into his own net, and Villa could have folded after falling behind.
But the visitors responded to the setback brilliantly and should have gone in at the break at least on level terms, with a combination of Edouard Mendy and Thiago Silva keeping them out.
First, Mendy saved well low down to his right to stop a Watkins shot and the Chelsea goalkeeper was then indebted to Silva for preventing the Villa striker from equalising.
While Romelu Lukaku made an instant impact on his Stamford Bridge comeback, new loan signing Saul Niguez was finding his first appearance in front of the home fans more difficult.
Signed on transfer deadline day from Atletico Madrid, Saul was caught in possession far too regularly by John McGinn and when the Scotsman caught him out in the 23rd minute, it should have resulted in a goal.
McGinn took the ball off Saul far too easily 20 yards from the Chelsea goal and played in Watkins. He pushed the ball past Mendy and looked certain to find the net, but his shot was brilliantly blocked by Silva.
Other than McGinn, 20-year-old midfielder Jacob Ramsey enjoyed a superb first-half in the Villa midfield, which was made all the more impressive by the fact he had picked up an early yellow card for a foul on Hakim Ziyech.
Mendy rescued Chelsea once again with 12 minutes of the first-half remaining as he made a brilliant double save, first from Tyrone Mings and then from Konsa, who couldn’t believe he hadn’t scored.
It was no surprise that Saul’s difficult Chelsea debut was cut short by Tuchel, who decided to replace him with Jorginho at half-time in a bid to regain some control of midfield.
And Chelsea took control of the game just four minutes after the break thanks to an absolute gift from Mings.
Under pressure from Kovacic, Mings first miscontrolled a pass into him and then sold Steer horribly short with a dreadful back pass that put Kovacic in on goal and the Croatian finished into the corner of the net.
The goal will have infuriated Villa manager Dean Smith, who quickly sent on summer signing Leon Bailey in place of Ramsey, who was slightly unfortunate to be taken off.
Bailey almost made an immediate impact by setting up Watkins, whose shot was deflected over for a corner, and he then earned Marcos Alonso a booking by nutmegging him near his own corner flag.
Although Chelsea were more dominant in the second half, Tuchel was able to call on the experience of Azpilicueta to help see the game out and they did so without conceding as Mendy saved a header from Konsa.
Alonso flashed a shot just wide, but from only his second chance of the game, Romelu Lukaku rifled a left-foot shot into the net following another mistake from Mings. Chelsea had not been brilliant, but they had been clinical.