Chelsea forced to think outside the box following injuries to Lukaku and Werner

Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi could be the immediate beneficiaries as Tuchel looks for short-term solutions

Romelu Lukaku was signed to be Chelsea’s automatic choice and the guarantee of goals. If he has not been the latter for the last month, perhaps he will not be the former for several weeks either.

The £98 million man’s seventh consecutive Chelsea game without a goal was curtailed when he came off with an ankle injury in the 4-0 win over Malmo. With the hamstrung Timo Werner also beating a first-half exit, Chelsea find themselves short of strikers.

Their focus on Lukaku was such that they started the season with one fewer centre-forward, bringing in the Belgian as Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham were sold. Now the European champions lack a specialist striker. It is not just Manchester City who will be playing a false nine in the next few weeks.

Admittedly, few tears may be shed for Chelsea when that false nine is likely to be Kai Havertz, the generational talent and £62 million signing who delivered the winning goal in the Champions League final. Versatile as the German is, there is a case for arguing that he has looked a lesser player since Lukaku arrived, struggling to adapt to life as one of the No 10s. He has only mustered one goal with Lukaku on the pitch; even that was a header from a corner at Anfield. Without Lukaku, Havertz excelled as a substitute against Malmo, scoring in stylish fashion after Callum Hudson-Odoi found him.

Havertz has only started one of the last six games, Hudson-Odoi three in 10. They could be the immediate beneficiaries. “They can prove a point now so we will have some games without Romelu and Timo. Everyone is invited to join the race for minutes on the pitch,” Thomas Tuchel said.

Chelsea v Malmo player ratings

The intellectual challenge of coping without Lukaku should appeal to the resourceful Tuchel. “We have to deal with it and find solutions,” the manager said. “No excuses.” But, and while Werner has proved famously profligate, there is a fundamental difference between the prolific Lukaku and his probable replacements.

Havertz’s Premier League record for Chelsea stands at five goals in 34 games, from 45 shots; in Europe, he has two goals from 16 matches. He is a curiosity, the Champions League final match-winner who otherwise appears a disappointment. For all Hudson-Odoi’s huge potential, he has scored three times in 59 league appearances. Yet if he was hampered by a status as a bit-part player, he could now be pivotal. “Guys who waited for their chance need to step up,” Tuchel added. “Whoever it may be, the race is on.”

But the race has been stripped of Chelsea’s best runner. Wasteful as Werner can be, he excels at sprinting at defences, stretching them and opening up space for others. Most of their other attackers prefer to operate between the lines, though Christian Pulisic, who scored in his only league game, is due back soon and has the pace to threaten.

Mason Mount is alone among their supposedly creative players in actually creating many chances this season and appears essential as one of the No 10s. Hakim Ziyech scored in the Super Cup against Villarreal but has since felt arguably the most disappointing, and least trusted, of their attackers but he and Ross Barkley, who started the season without a squad number, could get more opportunities.

Both the fixture list and their talent may equip Chelsea to cope in the short term. Before the international break, they face Norwich, Southampton, Newcastle, Malmo and Burnley. But if Lukaku and Werner are still absent when they take on Leicester, Juventus and Manchester United later in November then the tactician in Tuchel will need to flourish to find a way to win.

Updated: October 22nd 2021, 6:24 AM
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