Thomas Tuchel says it is “not the time to laugh” about Romelu Lukaku after the Chelsea striker only managed seven touches against Crystal Palace.
Lukaku set a new Premier League record for the fewest touches from a player who has played a full 90 minutes since statistics started being recorded by Opta in the 2003-04 season.
The Belgium international only managed seven touches in the 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday – and one of those was from kick-off.
Asked how he can get Lukaku to touch the ball more often, Tuchel said: “What can I do? I don’t know. We have to deal with it.
“The data is out there and the data speaks a certain language. He was not involved in our game, it’s sometimes like this with strikers. If they struggle a bit with self-confidence, to find the space and to get involved against a good defensive side, it can be like this.
“It’s not what we want or Romelu wants, but it’s also not the time to laugh about him and make jokes about him. He’s in the spotlight but we will protect him.”
‘Chelsea have history of struggling strikers’
Lukaku has scored five goals in 17 Premier League appearances this season since his £97.5m move from Inter Milan last summer.
Tuchel, who is preparing his for Tuesday’s visit of Lille in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, says the 28-year-old is not the first striker to struggle at Stamford Bridge and suggests the system Chelsea play could explain that.
Chelsea’s struggling strikers? – Premier League
Andriy Shevchenko (2006-09) – nine goals in 48 appearances
Fernando Torres (2011-15) – 20 goals in 110 appearances
Radamel Falcao (2015-16) – one goal in 10 appearances
Alvaro Morata (2017-20) – 16 goals in 47 appearances
Gonzalo Higuain (2019) – five goals in 14 appearances
“There is a history of strikers struggling a little bit at Chelsea so it may not be the easiest place in the world for strikers. I don’t know why it’s like this,” Tuchel said.
“In my opinion, Chelsea are a team considered a strong defensive team, a physical team, that has a certain attitude when in competitive football.
“We demand a lot of our strikers in terms of defending. We want to be a physical, hard-working group that wants to play a physical game and a skilful game. That maybe plays a part.
“We are on the subject and are well aware, but like always in football, it’s not just one reason to sort a problem. It’s a complex sport and we will try to continue to play with faith, with a team effort.”
Champions League: Holders Chelsea host Lille
Chelsea host Lille on Tuesday with Tuchel determined to see the Blues forge on in the defence of their Champions League crown.
The clubs have met in just one European campaign previously – in 2019-20 – when Chelsea won both matches in the group stage by the same 2-1 scoreline.
Lille are the reigning Ligue 1 champions but have struggled this season after a summer of changes, which included the departure of head coach Christophe Galtier.
Chelsea team news
Cesar Azpilicueta could return after a groin issue when Chelsea host Lille in Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 first-leg clash.
Winger Callum Hudson-Odoi should miss out again due to an Achilles injury, while midfielder Mason Mount could make the bench.
Mount has been struggling with an ankle ligament concern, but has made good progress and is inching towards being fully fit for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.
Provisional Chelsea squad: Mendy, Arrizabalaga, Rudiger, Christensen, Silva, Chalobah, Sarr, Azpilicueta, Alonso, Kenedy, Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic, Saul, Loftus-Cheek, Barkley, Mount, Pulisic, Ziyech, Werner, Havertz, Lukaku.
“They had a fantastic coach and a group of players [last season]. They were very competitive when I was in Paris,” Tuchel said.
“They were a strong group, very emotional group, never easy to play in their stadium. The quality of the coach was exceptional and you could tell they had the quality to fight high up the table.
“But they lost players and the coach in the summer so there has been a huge change. When the change is so big it may take time for things to settle in.
“They lost another key player in winter with Jonathan Ikone but still we all know how physical French football is, how physical the attacking players are, how brave they are in one-on-ones, very disciplined against the ball, and they have the chance to play this game as underdogs.
“It’s like always: we respect the game, respect the opponent, and prepare the team as we always do.”
Lille fact file
French champions Lille will head for west London hoping history does not repeat itself. The sides last met in the group stage of the competition during the 2019-20 campaign with the English club winning 2-1 home and away.
Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side – the former midfielder replaced title-winning boss Christophe Galtier last summer – have made it to the knockout stage for just the second time and the first since 2006-07, when they lost 2-0 on aggregate to Manchester United.
They lie in 11th place in Ligue 1, 23 points adrift of leaders Paris Saint-Germain, but emerged from Group G as winners on the back of three successive victories having taken only two points from their first three fixtures.
They include former Southampton and West Ham defender Jose Fonte and the much-travelled Hatem Ben Arfa, who joined the club as a free agent in January, among their ranks.
Analysis: What’s going wrong with Lukaku?
Sky Sports’ Nick Wright on the Essential Football Podcast:
“It’s interesting that Mason Mount was missing against Crystal Palace. Several weeks ago the passing data already showed Mason Mount is really the only Chelsea player who combines with him on a regular basis, and he was injured at Selhurst Park.
“That’s a problem for Lukaku – the rest of the team aren’t really serving him enough. He’s playing up front on his own now, and that’s a bit of an issue. He was brilliant at Inter playing alongside Lautaro Martinez where they formed a great partnership, but he doesn’t have that presence alongside him anymore.
“He’s expected to play as a target man which doesn’t really suit him, he much prefers getting the ball on the turn in deeper areas and running at defenders, and he’s not really getting the chance to do that.
“He’s expected instead to hold the ball up, bring others into play, and he’d rather be the one running in behind. It’s a tricky situation, and when you’ve spent £97m on a player you’d think there’s a plan in place for how to use him – and it doesn’t seem like that’s the case.”
Can low-scoring Lille shock holders? Opta stats…
- Chelsea are the first current champions of the UEFA Champions League to progress to the knockout stages not as group winners since Real Madrid in 2017-18, who did eventually go on to retain their title.
- Chelsea have only lost one of their previous 10 home European matches against sides from France (W6 D3), a 1-2 defeat to PSG in March 2016 which knocked the Blues out of the UEFA Champions League.
- Lille (7) come into this round as the lowest scoring group winners since both Leicester City and Atletico Madrid in 2016-17 (also 7 each). Jonathan David has been responsible for three of those seven strikes, netting exactly once in his last three appearances in the UEFA Champions League.
- Including finals, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel has progressed/won 73% of UEFA Champions League knockout ties (8/11), with only three other managers boasting a higher such rate among those to have overseen at least 10 knockout ties within the competition – Vicente del Bosque (80% – 8/10), Josef Heynckes (86% – 12/14) and Zinedine Zidane (88% – 14/16).
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