Romelu Lukaku may have missed Chelsea's past eight games through injury but his influence within the squad remains as important as ever, said his manager Thomas Tuchel, as the Belgian striker targets a return to action against former club Manchester United on Sunday.
Lukaku, 28, rejoined Chelsea from Inter Milan in the summer for a club record £97.5 million ($134m) and after a bright start with four goals in his first four games, failed to find the net in his next seven appearances. His last match was against Champions League opponents Malmo on October 20, when Lukaku sustained the ankle injury that has since kept him sidelined.
Chelsea, who sit top of the Premier League table and have advanced to the Champions League last 16, are unbeaten in Lukaku's absence and Tuchel insisted some of the credit should go to the Belgian.
“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,” the German said.
“He is a top a 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.
“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.”
Lukaku was named on the bench for Tuesday's 4-0 win over Juventus but did not make it on to the pitch, and while Tuchel admitted the chances of the Belgian starting against United on Sunday were “not very high”, he is expected to feature off the bench against his former side.
Lukaku spent two seasons at United, opting for a move to Old Trafford over a return to Stamford Bridge in 2017, and scored 42 goals before moving to Inter Milan.
There has been plenty of change in recent weeks at the Belgian's old club, who travel to London with Michael Carrick in caretaker charge before the expected announcement of Ralf Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked by United last week after nearly three years at the helm following an alarming slump in form that saw United lose five of their past seven league games, leaving them 12 points behind leaders Chelsea.