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Thomas Tuchel’s worrying answer to solving Romelu Lukaku problem ahead of Lille and Liverpool

It perhaps should have come as little surprise when the first question of Thomas Tuchel’s press conference ahead of Lille was about Romelu Lukaku.

The Belgian’s seven touches against Crystal Palace firmly highlighted the frustatioins the Blues have had in Lukaku’s first season back in the Premier League.

It’s a statistic that has left some pundits questioning why the 28-year-old is not showing more for the ball, and why his teammates are not providing it to him either.

The Chelsea forward scored two goals in two games during the Club World Cup and had moments that hinted he could finally be settling into the team and leader

However, the display at Selhurst Park was an exclamation mark on a series of Premier League performances in which he had 20 touches, 18 toughts and 28 touches. Each time it was the fewest number of the Blues’ starting XI – as may be expected from the lone frontman.

So, when Tuchel approached the first question of the press conference with a laugh, it was difficult to tell if it was expectation of the topic or exasperation with the situation

So, when Tuchel approached the first question of the press conference with a laugh, it was difficult to tell if it was expectation of the topic or exasperation with the situation

“Ha, what can I do? I don’t know. Well, now we have to deal with it, the data is out there and speaks a certain language,” said Tuchel.

“He was not involved in our game, it’s sometimes like this with strikers. If they struggle a bit with self-confidence, if they struggle a little bit to find the space and to get involved against a defensive side, it can be like this.

“It’s of course not what we want and not what Romelu wants, but it’s also not the time to laugh about him, make jokes about him. He’s in the spotlight of course, and we will protect him.”

It was not the most reassuring of responses.

Of course, Tuchel would not reveal his tactical plan to find a way forward in a public arena for all opponent’s to hear but the ‘I don’t know’, felt like it screamed for a £97.5 million problem.

Lukaku is still Chelsea’s top goalscorer this season with his 10 strikes in all competitions, and it’s impossible to ignore that it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Blues.

The former Inter forward spent a number of weeks injured before suffering a bout of Covid-19 as he was just beginning to find himself reaching the starting XI once again.

The chief threats in Tuchel’s favoured 3-4-3 are often the wing-backs, and the prospect of Reece James and Ben Chilwell attacking and providing service for Lukaku added to the fervour of excitement surrounding his arrival. The Belgian has started four games with James and three with Chilwell, and while all three have been on the pitch at the same time, the trio have not started a game together.

Should the Blues have found another style, or Lukaku have altered his?

Tuchel said: “Maybe both things. Of course, every style changes with long-term injuries to key players. We played the majority of the games with a back three and wing-backs and two of the key wing-backs are Reece and Chilly, who got injured at their peak level.

“They had a huge impact on our game offensively and defensively – regarding Romelu, offensively with their runs, speed, penetration, and deliveries.

“So, of course, this changes but we are not the only team where these players have the huge impact. In our system, the wing-backs are a crucial position to influence the game.

 

“Still, we can also play and win games without any player, this is our job and what we want to do. This is what we try honestly when we have injuries or corona cases. It’s on us and me to adapt and find solutions. Romelu will always be part of the solution.”

The Blues have continued to be successful overall, but their Premier League assault has stuttered, with the early-season form often being down to individual quality rather than complete performances.

 

That Lukaku will be part of the solution suggests the club will persist with starting their record signing in the hopes of unleashing his true potential. Though, in a 90 minute period, the Blues have so far been short of answers.

Tuchel even highlighted the struggles of Chelsea forwards in the recent past. Apart from Diego Costa, only Tammy Abraham, Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata have hit more than 10 goals in open play in the last decade for the Blues. Costa was the last to hit 20 goals in the league in 2016/17.

Tuchel added: “Maybe, maybe. There’s even a history of strikers struggling a little bit at Chelsea so it is not the easiest place for strikers. I don’t know exactly why the strikers do but it is obviously like this.

“In my opinion, it is also considered that Chelsea is a strong defensive team, that is a physical team with a certain attitude and a grip on playing competitive football. We demand a lot from our strikers in terms of defending. We want to be a physical, hard-working group that’s not shy to make it a physical game and not only a skillful game. That plays maybe a part.

“We have many games throughout our year together where we create many chances and struggle to convert them. Now, in the moment, there’s a time when we struggle to create too many big chances for our strikers. I think this is a normal in a period of the season.

“We are aware of the subject and like always in football, it is not always just one reason to solve the problem. It is a very complex sport and we try to keep on playing with faith and belief in what we do with our team and make the effort. From there we go.”

It’s not an unreasonable point to make, but when you spend £97.5million on a forward, goals are expected. While it is a complex situation, a more specific solution must be identified – inside the club at least, if not in a press conference.

Tuchel has had a great deal of success at Chelsea and he should be lauded for it. He’s showed immense ability to make alterations during matches and for tactical set ups against some of the best team in the world.

If he can figure out Chelsea’s problems in advanced positions, he will truly have created a side capable of taking on any competition.

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