Derbies always matter more.
Coming off the back of consecutive wins to open the new season, Chelsea knew that they were favourites going into the all-London affair with Arsenal. The Blues were cruising in the league and already with new silverware in the cabinet, whereas the Gunners had crashed to opening day defeat at Brentford.
Despite the excitement, it had been two years since Chelsea last prevailed against their rivals back in December 2019.
A draw and three defeats since needed avenging, and what better occasion to do so than the second debut of Romelu Lukaku, the returning record-breaking signing.
All eyes were on Lukaku who led the line at the Emirates, spearheaded by the dynamic duo of Mason Mount and Kai Havertz. An attacking trio we may well get used to over the course of the season, and with good reason too after their standout maiden performance together.
Chelsea had started the season well with wins over Villarreal and Crystal Palace, and continuing that was the aim at the Emirates. Far from a formidable opponent but one who would fancy their chances in a home derby, Arsenal underwhelmed as the Blues ran riot.
Lukaku made 15 appearances in his first stint at Chelsea, and it took 15 minutes for the Belgian to open his account and net his first goal in blue.
A clean poacher’s finish was just the tip of the iceberg, Lukaku holding up the ball in the build-up and muscling his way into the six-yard box. The goal helped secure his man of the match status, but it was his immense hold-up play and attacking presence all afternoon which earned his status as the best man on the pitch.
If Sunday is anything to go by, Chelsea are in for a treat with Lukaku. He is the man Thomas Tuchel so deeply craved these last seven months, and one who was awaited by Chelsea fans for the best part of four years.
Not since Diego Costa have the Blues had a number nine with the fear factor – they do now.
Lukaku’s second debut exemplified all of his qualities on and off the ball, showing Chelsea what they had been missing. He is the perfect reincarnation of his predecessors: with the aggression of Costa, the holdup play of Giroud, the strength of Drogba and the finishing of Hasselbaink.
Granted, it is still early, yet in 90 minutes Lukaku showed Chelsea what they have been missing for four years.
The 28-year-old’s headline-grabbing display shouldn’t take anything away from Chelsea, who put in a marvellous team performance. That is the beauty of Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea; not reliant on one superstar like Eden Hazard in 2018/19, but an all-round, balanced, disciplined team.
Reece James got a goal and an assist as he thrived on a spacious right flank, Arsenal’s defence still socially distancing even after Freedom Day. Marcos Alonso wasn’t granted the same liberty but still put in a solid shift against his favoured opponents.
Chelsea were unstoppable and dominant in the first half, taking the foot off the pedal slightly after the break but still maintaining control. The flat Gunners had no response, rarely threatening Édouard Mendy in what was a comfortable clean sheet for the Senegalese shotstopper.
Only as the Blues slowed down and failed to extend their advantage did it become uneasy, unable to kill the game off once and for all. That could cost Tuchel down the line, though he need not worry with the attacking options at his disposal.
Victory is always sweet, but it is even sweeter when it is a London derby win away from home.
Three wins from three is the perfect start to the season, but the first notable challenge arrives on Saturday when Chelsea travel to Liverpool. The Blues and the Reds are matched on all fronts at the top of the Premier League, and they meet this weekend in what could be an early title challenger battle.
Going to Anfield poses Tuchel’s first real test of the season – with the greatest respect to Chelsea’s first three opponents – as he faces his German compatriot Jürgen Klopp again.
Sunday saw Chelsea at their absolute best, cranking up the gears with plenty of room to become even better. The confidence is building with every win, and confidence breeds success in this game. Any result would be respectable but a second consecutive victory at Anfield would be some statement from the Blues.
For Chelsea, the season has started in glorious fashion: two games, five goals, zero conceded. It represents what this new Chelsea is about – the question is, can they do it against the big boys?
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