In rare occasions do we get to see a team without a proper striker managing not just to be very creative, but also converting the chances they get in matches. That has been the case with Chelsea for their last eight matches, having to “make do” without neither Romelu Lukaku nor Timo Werner and doing very well for themselves upfront.
We bought Lukaku from Inter Milan for one big reason: goals. The Belgian striker scored 64 times in 95 games with the Nerazzurri while guided by former Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, who helped transform the once good striker into one of the best in Europe. With the Blues creating loads of chances and failing to convert many of the easy ones throughout last season — and thus missing out on points that could have gotten us good results in the Premier League —, Lukaku might have been the “missing piece” in the Chelsea puzzle.
He has not had the full opportunity to show that yet, with the injury picked up against Malmö last October robbing him of valuable playing time. But there is more to Lukaku than just the goals and the attention he demands from opposing defenders. According to manager Thomas Tuchel, the talk of Lukaku also learning how to be a dressing room leader during his time in Italy is not just talk.
“Maybe we shine so bright because Romelu did the hard work before and scored some very decisive goals for us to bring us also in a position from where young players, other players, can take over and step in to show their qualities.
“The things he brings when he is in the dressing room, when he is in the building, even when he is injured - everyday he is positive, he is determined and he pushes everybody.”
Chelsea have no awareness of what a loss is since late September, when Juventus defeated us 1-0 with a lightning goal by Federico Chiesa in the second half of that Champions League group stage match. But even before that, Tuchel was not afraid to look for solutions by rotating players within the 3-4-3 and at times the 3-5-2, with Lukaku and Werner upfront.
One can see how the combination of having motivators in the squad such as Lukaku, along with Tuchel’s willingness to experiment and reward players for good performances with continued chances to start and impress, create a positive cycle on and off the pitch. Add the head coach’s tactical acumen and the positive form from the performances and results we have picked up, and it should be no surprise Chelsea look so good even when missing what most would consider their top players.
“[Lukaku] is a top professional and a top striker, he will be super important, he is actually in this moment very important, and I am absolutely happy that we can survive such a strong period without him, Mateo Kovacic, Timo Werner and Christian Pulisic.
“It shows that we function as a team, that we of course absolutely rely on top-quality players like every team does, but they bring so much more than only their presence on the field.”
Lukaku returned from injury during the last international break, and was selected to the bench in our match against Juventus last Tuesday. He did not take part in the match, with Timo Werner filling in for “false-nine” Christian Pulisic in the second half and picking up a goal to wrap up a 4-0 demolition of the Old Lady at Stamford Bridge.
In the same match we lost Ben Chilwell to an ACL injury, and almost lost Kanté with a knee injury as well. Of course we should always be looking to play our best players whenever they are available, and the absence of two of them either in short- or long-term is simply not what anyone will be looking forward to. At the same time, injuries are part of football — and it is Tuchel’s mission to find solutions to whatever obstacles appear, whenever they do.
“We miss all our players when they are injured, we missed Romelu a lot, but we are capable of finding solutions. This is my job, and the team is doing so well, because Rom is pushing and he is here, he is part of the team. The competition is strong which is a good thing.”
-Thomas Tuchel; Source: Chelsea FC
The internal competition reflects its counterpart at the league stage, with Liverpool and Manchester City pushing Chelsea hard to maintain a high level of play. May that high level be maintained this Sunday, making Michael Carrick’s Manchester United our next victim in the process.