Thomas Tuchel continues to benefit from his predecessors’ proteges. Chelsea moved into the top five with a third successive win under their new manager. For the second successive game, Maurizio Sarri’s old ally Jorginho converted a penalty. Once again, part of Frank Lampard’s legacy showed he is becoming integral in the new regime. Mason Mount scored Chelsea’s first and last league goals under his mentor. He opened his account for his successor with a Lampard-esque strike to set up a hard-fought win and lay down a marker.
There was also a different sort of first. When Chelsea appointed Tuchel, it seemed a ploy to get a fellow German scoring. Kai Havertz was absent through injury and Timo Werner’s drought extended to 14 league games but their less costly compatriot Antonio Rüdiger became the first player to score against Tuchel’s Chelsea with a comical own goal.
Meanwhile, Mount overshadowed big buys to become the first player operating in the new manager’s front three to find the net for him and the youngest man to register 10 Premier League goals for Chelsea since Arjen Robben. The willing Werner’s only goal in three months came against Morecambe but he contributed to both strikes against Chris Wilder’s team and almost scored himself. He ended the evening in credit.
A supportive Tuchel said: “He was decisive. A brilliant run for the first goal and it was great decision making for the second goal. When he plays like this we are happy.”
Werner’s emotions were more mixed. “I am happy with two assists but as a striker you want to score,” he said. “It has been a long time and I have not had this long without [a goal] in my career.”
Every game can add to his anguish. Werner spurned an early opportunity. Mateo Kovacic released him with a long pass, Werner had the assurance to dink a finish over the onrushing Aaron Ramsdale but his shot lacked sufficient power; Chris Basham materialised behind the goalkeeper to make a terrific interception.
It was, it seemed, the first of two goal-line clearances from the valiant Basham, a symbol of Sheffield United’s resistance as they made life awkward for Chelsea. He popped up again when Kean Bryan misplaced a back-pass, Werner raced on to it and into Ramsdale, his knee colliding with the goalkeeper’s face when the ball was nearer Basham than either. The referee, Kevin Friend, was initially unconvinced there was foul play but reviewed the incident on the pitchside monitor and gave the penalty.
“I was shocked it was not given straight away,” Werner said. “In the future, maybe I can take a penalty.” Jorginho has been preferred to him for the spot-kick duties and reverted to his technique of a hop, skip and a jump to send Ramsdale the wrong way.
While the goalkeeper, who was then assessed by United’s doctors and deemed fine to continue, seemed a candidate to become the first player replaced by a concussion substitute in the Premier League, the damage came to United’s fortunes. They had parity for 70 seconds before the penalty was awarded. Oli McBurnie had looked for Oliver Burke. Rüdiger had not noticed Édouard Mendy had left his line and poked the ball past the goalkeeper to end his run of clean sheets under Tuchel. “Still no goal from opponent; we did it ourselves,” said the manager.
“We were lucky not to concede first,” Tuchel admitted. United were awarded a penalty for Ben Chilwell’s tug on Basham, only for VAR to rule the latter was offside. They had precious little of the ball but managed to threaten in the first minute, when Burke shot into the side netting, and the 95th, when Mendy excelled to claw away Billy Sharp’s overhead kick.
“They had about £500m-£1bn of quality to call on,” rued Wilder; in contrast, a manager who was aggrieved the board did not heed his suggestions for January signings only named six substitutes. “Quite decent, them players, aren’t they? They punish when you open the door for them.”
He lamented the manner of the goals but otherwise his side defended valiantly. Werner troubled them from his berth as an inside-left. United were unlocked by the German’s acceleration for the opener. He reached the byline to meet Chilwell’s pass, supplied a cutback and Mount picked out the far corner with expert precision.
“Mason Mount is brilliant,” said an admiring Wilder. “They have ridiculous quality.” And they possess renewed hope. Chelsea were ninth when Lampard was sacked. Now, Tuchel said: “We want to try everything to reach the top four. We are the hunters for the teams in front of us and we are close.”