While Thomas Tuchel delivered Roman Abramovich the one European trophy absent from his collection — the Super Cup — the Russian billionaire has handed his manager a player both believe can be the missing piece in their pursuit of the Premier League title.
The club-record fee agreed for Lukaku, who flew into London yesterday, is a statement of intent from Chelsea in their bid to end Manchester City’s dominance. And a 6-5 penalty shootout win against Villarreal, after a 1-1 draw in Belfast, was evidence of Tuchel’s hunger for more success, less than three months since his Champions League triumph.
Even on the eve of the new season, the German was prepared to gamble on the fitness of key players to secure his second trophy at the club. And his masterstroke of bringing on Kepa in the last minute of extra time to give the goalkeeper the chance to be the shootout hero underlined his determination to start the campaign on a winning note.
It paid off, with the Spain international saving spot-kicks from Aissa Mandi and Raul Albiol to spark celebrations comparable to those in Porto in May.
Tuchel said: “We had all these discussions and thoughts. Do we share minutes? Do we continue the preparation phase? Do we use this match to be ready for Saturday? We decided no, we use this match to win it and nothing else.”
But Tuchel is waiting to learn the cost of the exertions, with little time to prepare for Saturday’s Premier League opener against Crystal Palace.
Hakim Ziyech was injured just before half-time to bring a sad end to what had been a hugely impressive performance from the Moroccan, who opened the scoring after 27 minutes. He was left clutching his shoulder after an awkward fall and wore a sling as Chelsea celebrated at the end.
“If you take a player out during the first half, it is serious,” said Tuchel. “It was unfortunate because he has been a very decisive player in the last games.”
The speed with which the new season has come around following a summer of international action has left clubs with little time to get players fully up to speed. City boss Pep Guardiola claimed after last weekend’s Community Shield defeat to Leicester that his champions were not ready for their opening fixture against Tottenham on Sunday.
Tuchel shares those concerns, but has told his players the Super Cup cannot be used as an excuse if they fail to get off to a flying start.
“Physically, this was the worst thing that could happen to us, playing extra time,” he said. “Mentally, it was the best thing. We overused some players who were not ready to play 120 minutes. We only have two days now until the next match, so that does not help us.
“This is the schedule. We had so many players who haven’t even had a friendly so far. This is the situation. It helps nobody to say that we are not ready. We have to adapt and be ready in our mindset to give our best on Saturday.
“Are we 100 per cent of our capacity? No, absolutely not. But we are ready to play matches at a certain level. We had to suffer, because you could see that after 35 minutes things got hard for us.
“I was very impressed with our reaction after 75 minutes because we had total control of the game again. We played a very good match until the 120th minute. So there were a lot of good things.”
Gerard Moreno’s second-half equaliser sent the game into extra time and penalties, when Tuchel’s decision to throw on Kepa proved decisive.
Lukaku’s arrival will further limit Tammy Abraham’s opportunities, with the striker told he can make the decision about his future after Chelsea accepted an offer of around £35m from Roma. Arsenal are also interested, but Chelsea would prefer to sell abroad.