Thomas Tuchel will make a late decision if Romelu Lukaku is fit to make his Chelsea comeback as a substitute against Juventus on Tuesday.
Chelsea’s record signing has missed their last six games and could be pressed back into action with Kai Havertz possibly out for the Champions League winners.
And while Sunday’s game against Manchester United is a likelier occasion for Lukaku’s first start since he suffered an ankle injury in the 4-0 win over Malmo, Tuchel could name him on the bench in case he needs a late goal.
“He was in team training and seems okay,” said the Chelsea manager. “Let’s see about the reaction. He has an appointment with the doctor and physio. Maybe he has the chance to be in the squad for the last minutes, but that will be the absolute maximum we can get out of the situation right now.”
Tuchel said Chelsea have “some doubts” about Havertz, meaning Timo Werner, the only one of their three main strikers who is definitely fully fit, could lead the line against Juve.
“When we play with Romelu we play with Romelu, when we play with Timo we play with Timo, and when they are not available we try to find solutions,” Tuchel said. “When the players have the chance to show their potential, they need to do it. This is what they do in a very impressive way.”
While Lukaku has not scored in his last seven appearances for Chelsea, they have flourished without the £98 million man and he was not missed when they beat Leicester 3-0 on Saturday.
Lukaku was bought to be the main goal-getter but instead 17 players have found the net for the season with Reece James their top scorer in the Premier League. “He is far from finished in his development,” said Tuchel. “He has all the potential to be a big and important player.”
Tuchel was nonetheless reluctant to say how far James’ potential can carry him, adding: “I see no reason why we should get carried away about things like is he the best [right-back] in the world or the best in England or the best in Europe.”
Chelsea were officially Europe’s best last season but Juventus, along with Manchester City, are the only team to have beaten them this year. “It wasn’t our best performance and we want to put it right,” said defender Trevoh Chalobah.
They have another incentive to excel. A draw will book Chelsea’s place in the knockout stages but if Juventus take a point at Stamford Bridge, it would guarantee they win the group and potentially leave Tuchel’s team with a more difficult tie in the last 16.
It could leave Tuchel with a question of whether to stick or twist. “Later in the game if the score is a draw we will maybe not allow [goalkeeper] Edou Mendy to go into the opponents' box when we have a late corner, because we will not risk our qualification and go all-in,” he reflected. “But until this moment we will try everything to win.”
Saturday’s meeting with United, who have just sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, prompted the question if they could prosper as Chelsea did last year by replacing Frank Lampard with Tuchel and going on to win the Champions League.
“I cannot say [it was] easy, that will devalue our effort,” responded Tuchel. He has attracted United’s attention in the past but distanced himself from the vacancy at Old Trafford, adding: “I am in the best place possible at the moment. I am a happy coach. It is perfect. That's what I try to transmit and maybe what everyone feels. I am in the right place and right spot.”