No Romelu Lukaku? No problem. Chelsea’s demolition of wretched Norwich City may have been the least surprising outcome of the weekend in the Premier League, but in its own way, it was a pivotal moment in the European champions’ season. As Gareth Southgate looked on, aside from Max Aarons’ unfortunate deflection past Tim Krul, all the goals were scored by English players nurtured at Chelsea’s Cobham academy.
“The academy guys are humble guys who know what it is to play for Chelsea,” Thomas Tuchel, the head coach, enthused afterwards.”They understand there is no problem in being a nice guy and playing hard. That makes things special.”
Beyond the glitter of the magnificent seven, this was a different Chelsea. With Lukaku on board, they get the ball to him as early as possible, confident of what will follow. It has not worked of late.
Lukaku has scored just three league goals and before hobbling off during the midweek Champions League crushing of Malmo, had not found the back of the net since early last month.
Without Lukaku, Tuchel was forced to innovate and from necessity came sublimeness.
As a result, Tuchel has found the managerial holy grail: options. Chelsea did not pivot around nominal sole striker Kai Havertz as they do with Lukaku.
None of the seven goals was scored from in the six-yard box, none was the work of a poacher and, in a game short on high crosses and corners (five for Chelsea; none, of course, for threat-free Norwich), none was headed.
Instead, new Chelsea took advantage of the gaps behind wing-backs Aarons and Dimitris Giannoulis.
With Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic spraying daisy-cutting passes left and right from central midfield, all Chelsea’s goals utilised width and two involved the ball being elegantly shifted from touchline to touchline. Goals came from everywhere. Hat-trick hero Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi notched their first league goals of the season, the 13th and 14th Chelsea players to do so (17 have scored in all competitions this season), while sharp-shooting full-back Ben Chilwell scored for the third consecutive league game.
More fascinating still is Hudson-Odoi’s renaissance. The hand of Tuchel looms large. A player who allowed himself to drift is beginning to wake up after the manager explained what was required.
“He told me to keep putting in the intensity,” Hudson-Odoi explained. “It’s not that he’s hard to please, you have to prove to yourself you’re worthy of being in the team.” Hudson-Odoi began poorly. In the first minute, Tuchel was incandescent when he lolloped rather than sprinted.
After a heated, albeit one-way, discussion, the player blossomed, scoring when he expertly read the pass of the afternoon from Kovacic, providing for Aarons’s own goal and outwitting his theoretical chaperone, Ozan Kabak, at every turn.
Tuchel wants more, but, as we already know, Tuchel always wants more. “He needs that,” Tuchel said.
“Guys who are so full of quality hear a little bit too often how good they are. We are tough on him, but we’ve found a way to push him to his limits.”
Outfought, out-thought and utterly outclassed, for Norwich there was nothing to take comfort from as they squandered the momentum spawned by draws with Burnley and Brighton.
“When you come to Chelsea, you need to be resilient and fight for your pride, but we didn’t show much of that,” captain Grant Hanley admitted. “Everyone in that dressing room has to look at themselves because everyone has got to do better.” Nascent signs of supporter discontent notwithstanding, strugglers’ seasons are not defined by visits to the European champions and Farke’s influence extends beyond the first team, but he has little to show for a summer outlay of pounds 50 million. In their next five fixtures, Norwich face Leeds, Brentford, Southampton, Wolves and Newcastle. After that, their season will be defined.
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