Thomas Tuchel warmed to the flaws of this Chelsea win as if they were offering him greater signs of progress in his restless quest for perfection.
There is often more to learn when the plan goes awry, with his team winning despite mistakes and making changes as they alternated between an international break and Tuesday’s Champions League game against Zenit St Petersburg, followed by a derby at Tottenham.
In the end they sidelined Aston Villa with a measure of comfort, but they knew they had been below their best.
Thomas Tuchel’s (left) Chelsea still unbeaten this season after beating Aston Villa 3-0
Romelu Lukaku struck twice as the Blues battled through a difficult first half for a convincing win
The win owed so much to Romelu Lukaku’s deadly finishing skills and Tuchel was happy to be thrilled with the ‘personality’, ‘confidence’ and ‘ambition’ of his new £97.5million striker.
Lukaku scored twice and with his form like this, Chelsea can drive over bumps in the road as the boss tinkers along with his exuberant squad, putting players in different roles and helping the regulars recharge.
The Chelsea boss was also willing to face his mistakes and took the blame when Saul Niguez was caught by the ‘intensity’ of Villa’s bustle on his debut and was substituted at half time.
“I thought before he lost more confidence it might be better to take him out,” said Tuchel, who also demanded more from Callum Hudson-Odoi, deployed as a fullback on his first start since April.
“I know it’s not his favorite position, but I think he can play in this position and serve the team when needed. Here it was necessary and yet he can do better, he can be more aggressive, yet he absolutely has to push himself to the limit.
Saul Niguez made his Chelsea debut but was hooked on his new manager at half-time
“This is what he does in training and he has to bridge this gap to fight for his place. This is life at Chelsea.’
The 20-year-old Hudson-Odoi was denied the chance of being loaned to Borussia Dortmund on the day of the transfer deadline. “There was no chance to say yes,” Tuchel explained. “For him personally it might have been a great opportunity, but for us and the goals we want to achieve it was just impossible.”
Jorginho, who replaced Saul at half time and regained some control, started on the bench after making three appearances during the international match, as did Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Mason Mount.
Of course it helps to have the quality of Chelsea. Thiago Silva came in from the back after clearing diplomatic squabbles with Brazil and FIFA over his non-release.
Callum Hudson-Odoi will need to do more to impress Tuchel’s high standards in the long term too
However, Mateo Kovacic started three times for Croatia and impressed in midfield against Aston Villa for another 90 minutes. He scored the crucial second goal, his first in the Premier League in 21 months, and created the opener for Lukaku with a beautiful pass. “With players like Romelu, you understand the movement,” Kovacic said.
“He made a great move and the ball was good in the end and we scored a perfect goal, so it’s great to have such a great player in our squad. He’s a great character, a great asset.’
Lukaku’s presence and willingness to continue scoring from behind the opposing goal line presented another opportunity and Tuchel seized the opportunity to adjust his tactics.
As a coach, he is astute and flexible and made a switch to play longer out of defense in the second half to avoid Villa’s high press.
“He saw that we were having a hard time playing like we usually do,” Kovacic said. “We changed our style of play a little bit and we played some long balls to Romelu, so we adapted well.”
In less than 12 months, since the late start of the 2020-21 season, Lukaku has scored 48 goals in 63 appearances for club and country.
New addition Lukaku already has three goals this season and is going for the Golden Shoe
He has three out of three since his return to Chelsea and his second on Saturday, lashing his left foot into the top corner from the edge of the box, exemplifies his supreme confidence and inspired comparisons to his hero Didier Drogba.
“I don’t care to be honest,” Tuchel replied when asked if he thought he would surpass Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United. “As long as Lukaku scores for us. He was decisive and that’s what we’re looking for.
“He wants to help the team with his goals. He wants to score for Chelsea and he is not shy about saying this ambition out loud. He’s full of confidence and the kind of personality that can handle it.’
He is a more complete footballer after two years at Inter Milan and Chelsea always seem so much more comfortable with their own identity when they have a strong, combative centre-forward in charge, be it Drogba, Diego Costa or Lukaku.
They are a more complete squad, a more complete squad than last season, and better able to survive an off-day without permanent damage.