Romelu Lukaku return eases Chelsea worries but now Thomas Tuchel must find right attacking combination

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 (Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
(Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Thomas Tuchel is finally set to have a full-strength strike-force to choose from as Chelsea enter a critical stage of the season.

Timo Werner is a doubt for Wednesday’s match against Watford after sustaining a knock in Sunday’s draw against Manchester United, while Romelu Lukaku’s return from the ankle injury that kept him out for a month will continue to be managed.

But Chelsea’s boss can see light at the end of the tunnel for the first time this season, after having to cope with a raft of lay-offs for his forwards.

That Chelsea still lead the way in the Premier League and have qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League despite such disruption to their attack is a testament to their squad depth — and it is also an ominous warning for their title rivals, with £97.5million Lukaku getting ever closer to full fitness.

But Tuchel is still to find the right blend up front in his bid to get the best out of the club-record signing.

Lukaku was the game-changing addition Chelsea prioritised in the summer: the top-class goalscorer who was expected to fire the European champions to the title.

In reality, they have thrived without him, but Tuchel still considers the 28-year-old pivotal to his plans and is determined to find his most effective attack with Lukaku at the point of it.

The Belgium striker made a flying start following his move from Inter Milan, with four goals in as many games, but a run of seven appearances without a goal before his injury led to concerns that he was suffering from mental and physical fatigue.

Tuchel accepts he is still to identify the best way to deploy Lukaku, but the issues up front have not been helped by injuries preventing them from naming a consistent front three.

Hakim Ziyech, Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz and Werner have all endured injury lay-offs in the first three months of the season.

Lukaku, Mount and Havertz showed promise initially, but the trio have started just three games together this season, with Tuchel constantly being forced to juggle his attack.

Despite sitting a point clear of Manchester City, Chelsea’s failure to be more clinical up front remains the biggest doubt hanging over their title credentials. It cost them against United on Sunday, just as it did against Burnley before the international break. They were two games they dominated, yet dropped four potentially vital points.

Tuchel has been prickly when questioned about his forwards recently, which perhaps points to his own frustrations about an issue that has been a consistent theme since he took charge in January.

Ahead of the Watford match, he admitted his demands on his strikers could be having an impact.

“They try hard and their contribution to our style of game, the high pressing, is immense,” he said. “You can see it in every game, also in the data, so maybe we should take into account when they arrive for the chances, they don’t arrive fully relaxed.

“Sometimes they breathe hard when they arrive and maybe that costs us precision sometimes, but we scored many goals before. We trust them. They have the quality to score for us. It is on us to bring them into positions where it is possible for them to score and to do this as often as possible. We need to create chances, as they have the quality.”

Tuchel has been particularly encouraged by Havertz’s progress, even if four goals so far is still below what is expected from the £71million Germany international.

Pulisic’s return from a lengthy ankle injury should offer Chelsea a new dimension, with his runs into the box unlike any of Tuchel’s other wide men.

Chelsea are still waiting for Mount to rediscover his form of last season, while Werner and Ziyech continue to frustrate. Lukaku is the player Tuchel hopes can knit it all together once he is convinced he is fully recovered.

“We showed with him and without him that we are capable of scoring and capable of winning, and I think it’s a process of adapting both ways,” added Tuchel. “The team will adapt to him and he will adapt to the team.

“The most important thing is that he gains a physical level where he can start for us. Romelu is a winner, is a champion and he’s hungry. I have zero doubts that he will have a huge impact on our team once he’s back. We still believe he can make the difference for us.”

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