When Chelsea announced the return of striker Romelu Lukaku in the summer in a whopping club-record deal worth £97.5million, everyone expected plenty of goals from the former Inter Milan man. However, that has not been the case in the early stages of his second spell in west London as he only has four goals to his name in all competitions, providing Thomas Tuchel with a troubling conundrum to solve.
His last goal for the Blues came in matchday one of the UEFA Champions League in the slender 1-0 victory over Zenit St Petersburg at Stamford Bridge. The Belgian international has now gone over a month without a goal for his club in a spell spanning six games, and this run is troubling for both the club, and the player.
"I feel he is a bit mentally tired," Tuchel admitted. "For me, he's overplayed. It's difficult to judge if he needs a break, or is it better to keep him on the pitch?"
The 28-year-old was one of the most in-form strikers in the world during his time with former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte at Inter as he helped fire the Nerazzuri to their first Serie A title in 10 years. What was key for the forward under Conte was that he was the focal point in the side and he was surrounded by players with the creative intelligence to pick him out. He is currently not getting the same service in Tuchel’s side and that is mainly down to the German’s recent tweak which means that the Belgian has been playing alongside German forward Timo Werner, with Tuchel hoping that this partnership would bring the best out of the latter.
In making this move, Tuchel has seemingly inadvertently held back Chelsea’s strongest attacking talent who is struggling to gain any chances and therefore score goals for his team. The problem is not even down to Werner coming into the side, but the players who have been dropped to the bench, the creative sparks such as Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech. The latter two were the players deployed either side of Lukaku in the 3-0 victory over Aston Villa last month in which he got on the scoresheet twice, and the only match in which he has scored more than once so far this season. Of course, we are all aware the main focus of a Tuchel side is the solidity of the defence, but he needs to realise that his job is to get the best out of all his players, not just those protecting the Chelsea goal.
However important clean sheets are for a title challenge, you also need to ensure that the players that are the main source of goals in your team are thriving because there will always be the risk of being made to pay for not taking chances and relying solely on keeping a clean sheet. The German boss will need to start addressing the situation with Lukaku early because he will be integral to their quest for success this season, in the Premier League and the Champions League. With a barren run such as this, there is always the risk of a player spiralling when the goals dry up and Chelsea have already experienced that with Werner last season. They simply cannot afford another striker to regress under their watch.
Tonight’s game against Malmo will provide the 28-year-old striker with the perfect opportunity to end the rut. The Swedish side have conceded seven goals in their two Champions League matches to date and that leaky defence should allow Lukaku to flourish, if he gets the chance.
Tuchel, who has said in the build-up he believes Lukaku is “mentally tired”, should consider reverting back to the system he started the season with, having two of his best creative players either side of the centre-forward. It is not just about fixing something in the short-term, but in the long-term as well. If he can strive to build his team to play to Lukaku’s strengths, they will see a dramatic rise in confidence and goals from the Belgian and their chances of silverware this season will also increase. As we all know, with the right service and being more central to the attacking play, Lukaku will always find himself on the scoresheet.
Betfred are offering 2/5 on Lukaku to score anytime against Malmo.