Thomas Tuchel says Romelu Lukaku was the type of player Chelsea were missing at the club as he continued his fine run of form with a match-winner against Zenit on Tuesday.
Lukaku’s fine header in the second half settled a tight affair as Chelsea beat the Russians 1-0 on the opening night of their Champions League defence, the Belgian’s fourth goal in four appearances since returning to the club in the summer.
Tuchel was full of superlatives for Lukaku after the game, and not only for his performances on the pitch, with Chelsea unbeaten this season and looking ominously strong.
The Chelsea head coach said: “The performance from Romelu was not easy. We didn’t create many chances for him but he’s the type of guy who doesn’t lose confidence and belief. And that is why he is a world-class striker.
“He’s super important, it’s as easy as that. You don’t find many strikers of his quality.
“We did win also without Romelu and produced results. But he was the type of profile we were missing, not just because of the talent but because of the personality. He is such a humble guy, a super communicator in the dressing room, and that creates a certain energy around him in the team that we are proud of and what to have.
“The spirit and atmosphere last year took us very far and it’s important we have it again. We have it with Romelu, he knows what the club is about.
“We have him and we are very pleased because he gives everybody around him confidence.”
After scoring with four of his six shots on target this season, Tuchel said Lukaku’s clinical edge gives the team and crowd confidence that a goal is coming.
“There are not many goals in football and goals change the momentum of the match. It gives the whole team belief that one chance is enough for him to score. So it’s not only talent he brings, he brings belief and takes pressure off the shoulders of other guys around him.
“He has the personality not to lose confidence. He is at a very high level and we are very happy to have him with us.”
Despite being frustrated for large periods by Zenit, Tuchel was happy with the intensity of Chelsea’s performance, in particular with their strength in defence.
It was yet another clean sheet for Tuchel’s side, his 23rd since taking charge in January, which is more than any other team within Europe’s top five leagues over that period.
“I am happy in general with the performance. It was a tough match against a strong opponent. It was tough for us in the first half to find little gaps, accelerate the game, be dangerous and create touches in the box ball.
“We played with a high intensity and had many ball recoveries. We had to be focused and aware with our defence because they have a lot of individual quality upfront.
“We did all that and in second half we found it easier to find spaces in between the lines, to accelerate, create half-chances, deliveries. And the cross from Azpi was good and dangerous because it comes from a difficult place to defend around the box. The target was the second post and Kai (Havertz) and Romelu were there. It was nice and at the same time a decisive goal that was very good for us.”
September 29: Juventus (A) – kick-off 8pm
October 20: Malmo (H) – kick-off 8pm
November 2: Malmo (A) – kick-off 5.45pm
November 23: Juventus (H) – kick-off 8pm
December 8: Zenit (A) – kick-off 5.45pm
Chelsea go to Tottenham in the Premier League on Super Sunday, live on Sky Sports Premier League at 4.30pm, before a Carabao Cup third-round clash at home to Aston Villa on Wednesday September 22 at 7.45pm.
Their next Champions League game is at Juventus on Wednesday September 29 at 8pm. Zenit host Malmo on the same day at 5.45pm.