Thomas Tuchel freely admitted he is unsure about how to get more from Romelu Lukaku after the striker endured a particularly quiet 90 minutes against Crystal Palace at the weekend.
A last-gasp goal from Hakim Ziyech clinched Chelsea a 1-0 win at Selhurst Park, but much of the post-game focus was on Lukaku’s impact – or lack of.
The Belgium international had just seven touches across the entire match, the fewest ever recorded in a single Premier League match for a player to feature for at least 90 minutes since Opta started collecting the data (2003-04).
Remarkably, just two of those were in the first half and one was from kick-off, and Tuchel suggested after the game that it did not say much about Chelsea “in general”.
Chelsea now turn their attention to the Champions League and hosting Lille on Tuesday, but Lukaku’s performance and general struggles at the club were once again at the fore.
Asked how he can get Lukaku more involved, 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.
“It’s, of course, not what we want or Romelu wants, but it’s not the time to laugh about him and makes jokes about him.”
It was put to Tuchel that the disruption caused by long-term injuries to wing-backs Ben Chilwell and Reece James, who were key during the early months of the season, could have played a part in Lukaku’s lack of cohesion with the rest of the team after a promising start.
“Every style changes with long-term injuries of key players,” he continued. “We played many games with a back three and wing-backs and two of the key wing-backs are Reece and Chilly [Chilwell], who got injured at their peak level. They had a huge impact on our game offensively and defensively.
“So of course, this changes but we are not the only team where these players have the huge impact and in our system the wing-backs are a crucial position.
“Still, we can also play and win games without any player, this is our job and what we want to do. This is what we try when we have injuries or COVID cases. It’s on us and me to adapt and find solutions.
“There is a history of strikers struggling at Chelsea, so it may not be the easiest place in the world for strikers.
“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 physical, hard-working group that wants to play a physical game as well as a skilful game.
“We are on the subject and are well aware, but like always in football it’s not just one reason to sort. It’s a complex sport and we will continue to play with faith, with a team effort, and it’s what we do.”