Having watched his side overcome the obstacle of an own-goal opener at Aston Villa, Thomas Tuchel was able to reflect on plenty that went right after that, including his decision to bring Romelu Lukaku on at half-time.
Our centre-forward soon put the team ahead and then followed it up by winning a penalty for Jorginho to complete a 3-1 success, the midfielder having initially equalised with another penalty. Tuchel recalled his half-time words with Lukaku.
‘I said to him to be very honest and tell me if he thinks he can play 45 minutes. He said yes and I said, okay, so try to play 45 minutes.
‘There's no doubt that he's super important. Every player is super important but Romelu will be a key player, nobody doubts that, but last time he started for us was in October and not because of quality or because we have any doubts that we are better without him starting.
‘It's not the case. He was simply unlucky to get injured and after injury, while he was struggling to come back he caught Covid so he had again 10 days out and then suffered from symptoms. Now we put him on the pitch for 45 minutes, which was more than the fitness and medical department recommended for him, but we thought we can take the risk and be more offensive with him, and I’m happy of course that it went well for today. Let's see now how the reaction is and how he adapts from here.’
Tuchel focused on another player who made an impact on the game despite not being in top condition – Callum Hudson-Odoi who won the first penalty and then crossed for Lukaku’s goal, as well as having a hand in the move that led to the second penalty. Injuries to others meant he played 90 minutes which was not in the original plan.
‘I think he was brilliant today and we forced him. Normally it was clear that he plays one half to a maximum of 60 minutes. This was already more than any recommendation from fitness department but he was strong in training so I wanted to have him on the pitch. Hakim Ziyech had only one training session, Callum had at least two and a half, so we decided to put him in and he was involved. He overcame some obstacles today and some adversity. That was a big game, a very important game from him. We took a kind of a risk here because he just came back from Covid.’
The team in general overcame adversity in dealing with the potentially demoralising way they went behind in the game to dominate, in the second half especially.
‘It was a very big win,’ acknowledged Tuchel. ‘The boys are super tired. The effort was huge. We had a bit of a rough start, we were not sharp enough, I had the feeling we tried to get away with skilful play but there was a last per cent missing in sharpness and in intensive effort. Still, we did not allow [Villa] too much but then we go behind with an own goal and a very unlucky goal, but the reaction was good in first half and second half, even better.
‘After our second goal we struggled a bit for 10 minutes with a reaction from Aston Villa but then controlled the match again and had big chances in counter-attack. We are super happy with this.’
It was not all good news though as Thiago Silva and N’Golo Kante came off with injuries in the second half and are unlikely to feature against Brighton on Wednesday.
‘N’Golo is very painful on exactly the same spot where he had his injury versus Juventus,’ reported the head coach. ‘Thiago came off with hamstrings, hopefully he went out before it became an injury. From there we try to continue and find a new squad and strong squad on Wednesday.’