Chelsea reached the Club World Cup final with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia champions Al-Hilal in their semi-final clash in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night.
Romelu Lukaku fired Chelsea into the lead just past the half-hour mark, lashing home after a major assist from the Saudi side.
Yasir Alshahrani was wrong-footed by Kai Havertz’s cross and his deflection gifted Lukaku the time and space to fire home from point-blank range.
Boss Thomas Tuchel has not travelled after testing positive for Covid-19 on Saturday and going straight into self-isolation – but will have been delighted that his team held out for the win.
The Blues still hope that Tuchel can link up with the squad in Abu Dhabi in due course, but until then assistant coaches Arno Michels and Zsolt Low will continue to hold the fort.
So, despite having to watch the game from home, what did Tuchel get right?
Lukaku ends dreadful scoring run
It was only a matter of time before Lukaku discovered his goalscoring form again – and he duly delivered in this clash.
The big Belgian was perhaps fortunate, as dreadful defending from Al Hilal defender Yasser Al-Shahrani ultimately gifted him a close-range finish in the first half.
But Lukaku, who had been backed by manager Tuchel to rediscover his form, got himself in decent goalscoring positions throughout the clash.
He now has nine goals for the Blues since returning to Stamford Bridge in the summer and, perhaps most importantly, it is his first strike since January 8.
Tuchel deserves some credit for sticking by his striker – and he’ll be hoping he returns the favour with more goals.
Kovacic pulls the string
Having endured a hit-and-miss period under Frank Lampard, Mateo Kovacic is becoming an integral part of Tuchel’s squad.
He further cemented his growing importance with a stylish display for the Champions League holders.
The Croatian midfielder, 27, was a constance menace in the middle of the park, breathing down the necks of his Al Hilal rivals at every opportunity.
But it wasn’t just his work ethic that impressed on Wednesday night; Kovacic was impressive with the ball too and attempted to thread his strikers through at almost every opportunity.
With Jorginho proving support alongside him, and Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz pulling the strings in front, Tuchel has some midfield – and that’s with N’Golo Kante and Mason Mount on the bench!
Rudiger’s the man
It’s becoming increasingly evident how important Antonio Rudiger is to Tuchel’s long-term plans.
The Blues are facing somewhat of a defensive crisis this summer, with Rudiger, captain Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen all out of contract at the end of the season.
It seems Azpilicueta and Christensen could well be on their way out, but Rudiger moved a step closer to extending his stay after reports emerged on Wednesday that Chelsea have now many an improve contract offer.
Goal report that the Stamford Bridge club have offered closer to his £200,000 a week demands, with Tuchel understandably desperate to keep hold of his star defender.
And the German displayed his importance in this win, producing a typically-dominant performance at the heart of Chelsea’s defence to ensure they head to the final with a much-needed clean sheet.
Kepa stands firm
Kepa Arrizabalaga’s struggles at Chelsea have been well-documented – but he has really stepped up in Edouard Mendy’s absence in the last month.
Mendy – who helped Senegal to an historic Africa Cup of Nations triumph last Sunday – sat out another game for his club, having only just arrived in Abu Dhabi.
That allowed Kepa to keep his run in the side and the £71.6m shot-stopper showcased his undoubted ability with a string of world-class saves; particularly in the second half when Al Hilal piled on the pressure.
The best of the bunch was in the 67th minute when the Spaniard produced an expert camera save to tip the ball around his far post.
Chelsea needed their second-choice keeper to step up; he certainly did that.