Chelsea’s 4-0 Champions League win over Malmo was as comfortable a victory as any team is likely to experience at such a high level, but Thomas Tuchel almost certainly shifted uncomfortably in his seat as his two first-choice forwards limped off before full time on Wednesday evening.
First, Romelu Lukaku was substituted after sustaining an ankle injury in the incident that saw Chelsea awarded a first-half penalty. Then Timo Werner pulled up with a hamstring injury before half time, giving Tuchel plenty to ponder ahead of the Premier League fixture against Norwich City this weekend.
According to the German coach, Lukaku and Werner will likely miss “some games.” While questions have been asked of both forwards this season, their absence will force Tuchel to rethink his tactical approach. Chelsea might have to play in a slightly different way to cope without the pair.
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Tuchel at least has options, perhaps more than any other Premier League manager. Chelsea arguably boast the deepest squad of any team in the European game right now and so they are better equipped than most to handle the absence of two key players like Lukaku and Werner.
Kai Havertz looks to be Chelsea’s best option to play as the centre forward in Tuchel’s system with Lukaku sidelined through injury. The German has been used in this role before and it could be argued that this is where he has produced his best performances for the Stamford Bridge side since arriving from Bayer Leverkusen two summers ago.
In the Bundesliga, Havertz demonstrated his potential as something of a ‘false nine.’ He was an attacking hub for Leverkusen. He dropped deep to create space for wingers to burst in behind. He even got on the end of crosses into the middle - Chelsea have yet to truly harness Havertz’s aerial threat.
Havertz could potentially play in Lukaku’s position, albeit in a different way, but Werner’s deputy will require another sort of skill set altogether. In Tuchel’s side, the German attacker’s purpose is to stretch the pitch with his pace and facilitate others around him - his partnership with Lukaku was growing with every match before injury struck both players.
Christian Pulisic would be a natural fit on the left side, but the American international just can’t shake off his injury troubles. “He is very impatient, of course, and he does everything and we can see him suffer in every meeting,” Tuchel explained recently. “And every time we meet him here [at the training ground] he is really suffering and he wants to be on the pitch and help us. Everybody is doing their very best. Unfortunately the injury takes its time.”
Kai Havertz celebrates his goal for Chelsea in the Champions League against Malmo.
Image credit: Getty Images
With Pulisic still out, Callum Hudson-Odoi might well be Tuchel’s best option to deputise for Werner. Like the German, he would bring vertical thrust to Chelsea’s attacking play. Hudson-Odoi is a ball carrier like Werner and might even be a more accomplished final-third threat than the player he would be filling in for.
Between Havertz, Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount, who will almost certainly keep his place as the link between the midfield and attack, Chelsea should still have enough within their ranks to keep moving forward without Lukaku and Werner. However, Tuchel might have to give some thought over how he will integrate the players ready to step up.
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