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(Reuters) -Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel worked his magic last season to guide them to Champions League success but they now look like genuine Premier League contenders too after the arrival of Romelu Lukaku as the missing piece to complete their attack.
Chelsea finished fourth last season but scored the fewest goals among the top seven teams, with their leading scorer being midfielder Jorginho whose seven all came from the penalty spot.
The lack of a lethal goalscorer leading the line was a major concern as new recruit Timo Werner struggled to adapt and suffered a crisis of confidence, even as Tuchel took charge and did his best to defend the Germany forward from his critics.
Having been crowned European champions, Chelsea needed the right player that would fit the bill and help them battle on multiple fronts.
Enter Belgium striker Lukaku, who flourished in Serie A with Inter Milan by scoring 24 goals in last season's title-winning run, with Chelsea having no qualms about spending a club record 97.5 million pounds ($134.93 million) for the 28-year-old.
"He has a kind of personality and self-confidence, he wants to score, help the team with his goals. And he has the confidence and composure to do it," Tuchel said.
Lukaku had been ridiculed in the past over his weight and first touch during his spell at Manchester United but he has since forged a reputation for being a proven finisher, returning to England the finished product and in the form of his life.
"In Italy, I was playing in a league where I maybe had one or two chances a game, so I had to take them," Lukaku said.
"I was up and down at the start (of my career) but I've found a certain consistency in the last three years with experience and hard work."
PHYSICALITY AND PACE
Lukaku has already struck fear into the hearts of Premier League centre backs, with many failing to contain the Belgian as he effectively combines his physicality and pace to create space for himself in the box.
Defenders have either bounced off him or failed to read his movements, evident in the way he bullied Arsenal's centre backs and had Aston Villa's defence second guessing his next move.
With three goals in three starts, Lukaku is already in the race for the golden boot and had the perfect homecoming on Saturday, scoring his first goal at Stamford Bridge.
He had failed to score at the ground with United, Everton, West Bromwich Albion and even Chelsea in a short first spell that ended seven years ago, when he was at first considered heir-apparent to club great Didier Drogba.
But in his 15th appearance at the stadium, and his first in a Chelsea shirt under Tuchel, his two goals helped secure the points https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/lukaku-kovacic-break-stamford-bridge-ducks-chelsea-beat-villa-3-0-2021-09-11 in a 3-0 win over Villa that moved the west London club level on points with leaders Manchester United.
"It was my dream since I was 11 (to score at Stamford Bridge)," Lukaku added. "I've worked hard for this moment."
($1 = 0.7226 pounds)
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)