LIVERPOOL, England — Romelu Lukaku’s second half was not an particularly glamorous one. There was a lot of operating, darting into the slivers of house on both facet of Liverpool’s central defenders, hoping for a ball that not often got here. There was a substantial quantity of tussling and wrestling with Joel Matip, specifically, the 2 scrabbling for each inch of floor.
There weren’t, conversely, many touches: solely 20 in all after halftime, not fairly one each two minutes. There was solely, in all the span of that 45 minutes, one scoring likelihood, a single second that Lukaku spent his total night time making an attempt to conjure, a snapshot from simply contained in the penalty space. He caught it properly. No sooner had it left his foot than Virgil van Dijk blocked it.
Such is the lot of the striker, after all: all of these moments of glory, as they wheel away, their arms aloft, adulation pouring forth upon them from the stands are the product of numerous hours of unseen, unyielding and sometimes underappreciated work. Every purpose is reward for all the effort silently expended. Lukaku, now in his second tenure at Chelsea, has been doing this lengthy sufficient for use to it.
Even then, although, Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Liverpool may have felt like an arduous night. Circumstances had dictated that Lukaku spent a lot of the second half trying backward, fairly than ahead. Chelsea had been main, by way of a intelligent header from Kai Havertz, with the clock ticking towards halftime when Reece James dealt with the ball on the purpose line.
James was — ultimately — despatched off, Mohamed Salah transformed the penalty, and Anfield smelled blood. From that second, it was clear that Chelsea’s second half can be devoted to holding out, not pushing on, and Lukaku, restored to the membership for $135 million this summer time, would endure a night of silent toil.
Thanks to each his value — Lukaku is now the costliest participant in soccer historical past by way of cumulative switch charges, at least till Kylian Mbappé joins Real Madrid — and that standing, there may be a pure inclination to imagine that the ultimate piece within the puzzle can be an important, that this Chelsea staff is now constructed for, and round, Romelu Lukaku.
His first show, at Arsenal final week, did little to disabuse anybody of that notion. He performed there with all the intent and menace of an avenging hero, scoring inside 15 minutes of the beginning of his second spell in England; he might properly have single-handedly robbed Pablo Marí, his direct opponent that day, of any scrap of self-belief for a number of years.
His second recreation, on Saturday, served as a reminder that there can solely be a remaining piece if the puzzle is almost full. Lukaku was, by way of no fault of his personal, an elective further for a lot of this recreation, towards one among Chelsea’s putative rivals for the title, and but the membership’s touring followers nonetheless greeted the ultimate whistle of a roar of approval.
Thomas Tuchel’s staff had not received, after all, not in any strict, literal sense, however championships are constructed on ethical victories, too, and this one was resounding. Chelsea — even enjoying at a drawback after James departed, in entrance of a baying crowd, towards a staff with some of the potent attacking tridents in world soccer — produced a show of fairly gorgeous management, and composure, and calm.
For a lot of the primary half, Chelsea had pissed off its host, seemingly lowering the good inexperienced sprawl of Anfield — the open expanses wherein Liverpool thrives — to nothing however a postage stamp. Every means that Jürgen Klopp’s staff turned, there was a blue jersey. Chelsea has an inexorable capability to fill house, to show each alley blind.
Liverpool had been rising a little rushed, a little ragged because it sought a means out of that vise, with van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold at one level diminished to despairing loudly at one another over the width of the sector: Van Dijk needed his teammate to push ahead; Alexander-Arnold couldn’t see the place he was alleged to go.
The penalty, and the purple card, alleviated that stress, but it surely redoubled Chelsea’s dedication. Tuchel reorganized: Thiago Silva got here on within the coronary heart of protection, César Azpilicueta shifted out to the suitable, the indefatigable Mason Mount performed as a holding midfielder and an attacking midfielder and an auxiliary proper wing again, too.
Chelsea had misplaced N’Golo Kanté to an harm at the break, a third reason behind remorse, and but his spirit appeared to suffuse his staff. In 45 minutes wherein Liverpool exerted a monopoly on the ball, wherein Lukaku barely featured, it didn’t create a single, clear-cut likelihood. There have been a handful of efforts from vary, however no means by way of, no means round, no means out. Even Klopp, within the aftermath, may barely include his admiration. “A man extra is not a massive advantage against a side with the defending skills they have,” he mentioned.
It is that this, as a lot as the specter of Lukaku, that makes Chelsea such a menace: the air of invulnerability, of redoubtable stolidity, that Tuchel has bestowed on his staff in his eight months as coach. Chelsea has the firepower to see off the vast majority of the Premier League’s groups. But simply as vital is that it has the battery to maintain out the good and the great.
It is straightforward, within the frenzy of the summer time, as new gamers arrive to garland outdated groups, to consider that what issues is who can name upon essentially the most expertise, that titles are handed out to the perimeters with essentially the most dazzling squad lists and the best expenditures.
But that’s not fairly the way it works. There is one other stage to the method: these assets need to be customary into a functioning unit, all of these gifted people crafted into a staff. Lukaku might but show the ultimate piece within the puzzle for Chelsea. What issues extra, although, is that Tuchel had already put the remainder of it collectively.