Within the first 15 minutes of Romelu Lukaku’s debut, Chelsea supporters got a glimpse of a combination that could prove extremely productive for Thomas Tuchel this season.
Reece James was kindly given most of Arsenal’s right side to penetrate and add the required width to the Blues’ attack. It didn’t take the 20-year-old long to put the space to great use by finding his new frontman who subsequently opened the scoring.
Throughout the afternoon, James exploited the Gunners’ narrow backline to create overloads on the Chelsea right and he capped off a stellar individual performance with a fine finish to double Chelsea’s lead.
The combination of Lukaku and James proved to be the biggest difference between the two sides on Sunday, and their partnership looks like it could be key to Tuchel’s side’s success moving forward.
Earlier in the summer transfer window, the Blues were reportedly looking at acquiring the services of Achraf Hakimi from Inter Milan. At the time it was a move that took fans by surprise given Reece James’ burgeoning talent, his standout performance in the Champions League final and the need to invest in other areas of Chelsea’s squad.
The interest appeared to never go beyond a curiosity for the European Champions and the Moroccan went to Paris-Saint-Germain for a reported £51.3 million fee.
Even with Hakimi’s talent, it didn’t feel like a massive miss. Eventually, Chelsea went back in for another Inter player, but it was one they needed in Lukaku.
Chelsea’s inability to profit from James’ brilliant crosses has been a major point of frustration since his breakthrough under Frank Lampard in 2019. Too often the English defender has seen his well-crafted deliveries spurned with no one arriving to gobble them up. Even before Lukaku’s debut, there was strong confidence this profligate streak would meet its end.
Chelsea’s opener against Arsenal demonstrated how the Belgian’s presence can transform the way Tuchel’s men attack the opposition and create high-quality chances.
In the build-up to Chelsea’s first goal of the afternoon, Lukaku received the ball to feet from Mateo Kovacic as he held off Pablo Mari. A part of his game he transformed in Italy was his play with his back to goal, and he perfectly demonstrated that comfort in Chelsea’s opener.
Arsenal’s narrow backline gave Reece James the licence to push high up the pitch, and it didn’t take much for him to be played in by Kovacic over the top of a disorganised Gunners backline.
As soon as the ball left the Croatian midfielder’s foot, Lukaku had turned and was sprinting into the six-yard box. It’s here where Lukaku quite comically shrugged off Mari who did a good impression of a disposable bad guy being thrown out of a moving car in a Mission Impossible film.
James then had the simple task of finding Lukaku who applied the finish.
The construction of the goal was eerily reminiscent of Lukaku’s first for Inter in Serie A last season against Fiorentina. This time it was Alexis Sanchez who played the Kovacic role, floating a chipped ball over to Hakimi who crossed for Lukaku to score.
Who knows whether this is something Tuchel has actively looked to replicate with James or not, but to be able to find Lukaku in similar areas as to where he was so devastating for Inter is highly encouraging.
This combination continued to hurt Arsenal in the opening half, as Kai Havertz found James again charging forward with a pinpoint pass.
Like the opening goal, James could have played in Lukaku for a tap-in but instead opted to cut back for Mason Mount, whose rushed effort was blocked for a corner.
For all of Hakimi’s amazing talent, he’s had the benefit of playing with two of Europe’s deadliest finishers in Erling Haaland at Borussia Dortmund and Lukaku at the San Siro. Despite being a European Champion, James hasn’t been afforded a similar level of elite striker – but now he has Lukaku.
Hakimi would have been nothing more than a luxury signing for Tuchel, and James has already shown he has the quality to become Chelsea’s chief creator for one of football’s most prolific marksmen.
There will be many players who benefit from Lukaku’s arrival and there are many ways to supply a complete player like him, but James and Lukaku might end up being the Blues’ most consistent combination this season as they look to increase productivity in the final third.
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Source by Football London