What does the future hold for Lukaku and Chelsea following Carabao Cup setback?

Thomas Tuchel manager of Chelsea and the injured Romelu Lukaku (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
Thomas Tuchel manager of Chelsea and the injured Romelu Lukaku (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images) /

Chelsea FC’s shirts have been emblazoned by the ‘Club World Cup champions’ badge since their win over Palmeiras. However, the Blues have looked anything but the best team in the world for a few months now.

They only managed to pip the South American powerhouse courtesy of a Kai Havertz penalty in the 117th minute, whilst an 89th-minute volley from Hakim Ziyech spared their blushes in the very next game.

Surely, deplorable finishing and lack of killer instincts in the final third was going to sting Chelsea sooner than they’d expect. And while Thomas Tuchel’s side masterminded a host of clear-cut opportunities against a Liverpool outfit designed to bestrode the opposition, Chelsea failed to beat 23-year-old Caoimhin Kelleher.

They eventually lost the penalty shootout 11-10 in a game where they can go back and dwell over plenty of missed chances. Amongst the many talking points, Romelu Lukaku’s continued omission from the starting XI was a worrying sight for the Blues faithful for multiple reasons.

What’s even more worrying is that Tuchel’s decision to leave behind his £100 million man was perhaps, the right move. Lukaku recorded a record-low seven touches in Chelsea’s narrow victory over Crystal Palace; a statistic to which even the manager had no explanation.

As honest as he always is, Chelsea boss Tuchel conceded:

"I’m not so sure if I have a good answer for your question [why he struggled]. I don’t know. Obviously, he was not involved and could not make a point today. I’m not sure if it says so much about us in general."

Indeed, Lukaku has only scored two goals since mid-September. What began as a fairy tale return has now turned into a dreaded discourse – pundits, fans and purists alike have argued that Lukaku’s work rate is below par, and so is the insufficient movement.

Compare that to Kai Havertz’s performance against Liverpool on Sunday, and one could understand why the German is the right number nine for Chelsea at present.

So, what’s next for Romelu Lukaku and Chelsea? 

If recent numbers are to go by, then it’s also important to note down Lukaku is amongst the 32 players who have more than a century of Premier League goals to their credit. He announced his return to Stamford Bridge against Arsenal in dominant fashion, shrugging off two centre-halves and then arriving into the box before anyone else to poach his first goal at home in Chelsea blue.

Also read: Just why Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku is ‘Unplayable’

The number 9 shirt, fair to say, the position of spearheading the Chelsea front line has not been a happy ending for many. The likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Alvaro Morata, Andriy Shevchenko, Alexandro Pato and Radamel Falcao – all with serious pedigree – have failed to overcome this hoodoo.

Lukaku is arguably the most talented amongst them if viewed with modern-day parameters of strength, speed and finishing. He is what one would label as a complete centre-forward.

Havertz certainly deserves his spot as the mobile number 9, but surely, Lukaku has to be involved for all the money spent and talent he possesses. Football is a fast-paced sport where moments are forgotten in a flash. It was only a year ago when Lukaku was tormenting defences in the Serie A, marshalling Inter Milan to their first title in 11 years.

The striker’s position embodies a sense of confidence within itself. Lukaku, as brilliant as he is, might be profoundly short of faith. Thus, Tuchel should urge the Belgian to train harder and put more hours into getting sharper, simply because the finishing acumen is never lost in a predator like him.

Chelsea had a fine offside call go against them versus Liverpool, where Lukaku drifted in behind the centre-backs, swiftly moved to his left and did what none others managed on the evening – ruthlessly strike it beyond Kelleher’s goal. It’s only a glimpse, but tactically, there is a lot to be explored as far as Tuchel’s preparations for the following games are concerned.

If the German coach is to include Lukaku in his starting XI, he could do so by playing Hakim Ziyech or Kai Havertz on the right. They’d act as wingers who allow the wing-backs to underlap as seen multiple times this season, but also arrive into the box during the turnover.

That’s where Lukaku’s strength to hold the ball up, run at the back line with frightening pace and create chances could come in handy. This would draw two similarities with his role at Inter Milan – firstly, Lukaku’s starting positions would heat the right-hand side of the pitch, and secondly, either of his fellow forwards would play as co-strikers during the passage of play.

Read. Lingard expected to leave Manchester United this summer. light

It’s harsh to build a team around someone who is misfiring, but this is part of an in-game tactical adjustment that Chelsea could apply.

Instead of fighting egos and building his team the hard way, Tuchel could harness Lukaku’s greatest suits before he grows despondent and Chelsea regrets another failed transfer.