Thomas Tuchel knew there was a risk to starting Romelu Lukaku against Malmo in the Champions League. Yet the Chelsea head coach would not have envisaged a scenario in which the Belgian was forced off after just 23 minutes.
The injury sustained by Lukaku could not have been predicted. A wild lunge on the 28-year-old by Lasse Nielsen resulted in Lukaku’s ankle contorting under the body of the Malmo defender. There was no way he could continue.
Tuchel, however, had no regrets about his decision to include Chelsea‘s leading scorer in the starting XI. “If I knew before I wouldn’t have done it, but you can’t know it before,” he said in his post-match press conference.
“So I don’t regret it. It’s not a muscle injury or because of physical fatigue. He is a little bit overplayed, this is my opinion and maybe I’m not even right. But this was a moment to give him confidence and let him play. I don’t regret it, things like this can happen. It was bad luck.”
Unfortunately for Chelsea, Lukaku wasn’t the only casualty of the 4-0 victory. Timo Werner, who started on the left of the Blues’ front three, was replaced shortly before half time with a hamstring problem.
“It will take a while for both of them [to return],” Tuchel accepted. “We need more examinations to be more precise but they will be out for some matches.”
Chelsea have an intense schedule between now and the November international break. So Tuchel will be frustrated to lose two key figures in his attack. However, both injuries could have come at a less opportune moment.
The Blues’ next five games across three competitions are against Norwich City, Southampton, Newcastle United, Malmo and Burnley. Chelsea will be favourites to win all of those with or without Lukaku and Werner.
Their absences will present opportunities for others. Against Malmo, Kai Havertz replaced Lukaku and Callum Hudson-Odoi came on for Werner. Both linked up for Chelsea’s third goal of the contest and the gauntlet has now been thrown down by Tuchel.
“They can prove a point now as we will have some games without Romelu and Timo,” the German said. “Everyone is invited to join the race for minutes on the pitch. and when they are on the pitch, they need to show their hunger and determination to be decisive and be in the box.
“This is how it is and they did it today, but there’s still room to improve. On Saturday, we need the same hunger and determination from whoever starts for us because we need goals to win matches.”
Tuchel doesn’t lack attacking options he can turn to for the visit of Norwich on Saturday. And given the Blues have struggled to click in the final third this term, Lukaku and Werner’s injuries may actually give him an opportunity to shake things up, to try something different.
And here are four ways we feel he can do so (on the basis Christian Pulisic has yet to make his return from injury).
Hudson-Odoi – Havertz – Mount
This is the trio that Tuchel is most likely to turn to when Norwich visit Stamford Bridge on Saturday lunchtime, especially as they all played the second half against Malmo.
It’s an attack that blends subtly, hard running and direct dribbling. All of which is likely to be needed to break down Daniel Farke’s side, who are bottom of the Premier League table and without a win in the top-flight this season.
Hudson-Odoi teed up Havertz for the German’s goal against Malmo and the two have shown an understanding on the rare occasions they’ve both been on the pitch. Mount, meanwhile, is one of Tuchel’s go-to players and with Lukaku and Werner ruled out is a shoo-in to start at the weekend.
Mount – Havertz – Ziyech
This would be incredibly harsh on Hudson-Odoi but Tuchel could shift Mount onto the left of his attack and bring Hakim Ziyech back into his side.
The Moroccan has tumbled to the bottom of the Blues’ attacking options in recent weeks and has featured just once in the last six games, although he was ruled out of last weekend’s win over Brentford with what Tuchel said was a headache.
Ziyech was an unused substitute against Malmo so would be fresh if called upon. Whether he would link as effectively with Havertz and Mount is another issue, however.
Hudson-Odoi – Ziyech – Havertz
It’s easily forgotten that Ziyech was hugely impressive in pre-season for Chelsea, largely operating in a false nine role. Unfortunately for the 28-year-old, an injury suffered in the UEFA Super Cup, a game in which he scored, and the arrival of Lukaku curtailed that experiment.
Yet perhaps it’s something that Tuchel can return to against Norwich. Ziyech is certainly intelligent enough to drop deep and link play while Hudson-Odoi and Havertz can either break beyond defences or occupy space in front of a backline.
It would mean that Mount isn’t included in the starting XI, but Tuchel did state the England international was perhaps struggling with mental fatigue ahead of Wednesday’s win over Malmo.
Loftus-Cheek – Havertz – Hudson-Odoi
This may be a bit too left-field for Tuchel in truth, but it’s certainly something the Chelsea head coach could consider.
Loftus-Cheek’s renaissance has been one of the story’s of the Blues’ season and he’s done it playing as a six. Yet the England international is equally as capable of playing as an eight or ten and could be moved into the frontline in the absence of Werner and Lukaku.
If Norwich arrive at Stamford Bridge and attempt to defend deep, Loftus-Cheek’s ability to skip beyond tackles could be a huge weapon. It’s the same for Hudson-Odoi, who would be shifted onto the opposite flank.
Havertz would then be used through the middle as a reference, although with far more licence to roam across the frontline than Lukaku has been given since rejoining Chelsea from Inter Milan in the summer.