Thomas Tuchel has said that Romelu Lukaku can still play a key role for Chelsea, despite admitting Kai Havertz is an almost perfect fit up front.
Lukaku was the statement Chelsea signing last summer, returning to Stamford Bridge for a club-record £97.5million. In doing so, the striker filled the only potential weakness in manager Tuchel’s team.
There was subsequently great hope for the Belgian’s fortunes. However, Lukaku’s second spell at Chelsea has so far not worked out as he hoped. He has only scored 11 goals, including only five in the Premier League.
Nevertheless, he has only started 12 matches in the top flight and he caused controversy in December. Lukaku claimed that Tuchel decided to change the system to his detriment.
Since then, the striker has been in the spotlight and has continued to struggle for game time and goals. In his place, though, Germany international Havertz has starred in a different kind of striker role.
Indeed, the 22-year-old netted two goals in last Saturday’s 4-0 win over Burnley. Asked about the battle between Havertz, Lukaku and Timo Werner for game time, Tuchel insisted that he needs all three players.
“Of course,” the manager told the Daily Mirror of Havertz’s importance. “He gives a lot of intensity and he’s involved in goals. He scored again, so it’s a very good moment and it’s on him to keep going. This is how it is.
“We played the last cup match without him, Timo Werner was very strong and was very close to starting. Romelu got his goal and we will need everybody. But at this moment, he’s in really good shape.”
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Havertz and Lukaku had goals ruled out in the Carabao Cup final defeat to Liverpool. In and around that game, Havertz scored against Lille in the Champions League and Lukaku scored in the FA Cup win over Luton.
However, Tuchel could not deny that Havertz has special traits that, as it stands, mean he must carry on playing.
“What he gives us is huge volume,” Tuchel said. “He covers a lot of metres, he covers a lot of metres in high intensity, so he finds the intensity no matter what the system the opponent defends against us, he finds intensive runs, he finds distances.
“This is what makes him and he uses his body more and more.
“He loves to create overloads and half spaces and this is what he gives. It’s just his style of play, his characteristic as a player. He’s in good shape, he’s confident.
“He did not have such a good first half, but then he was decisive in the second half and scored twice.”
Havertz, Lukaku crucial for Tuchel
Despite the battle for minutes at Chelsea, both Havertz and Lukaku will prove crucial for Chelsea in the business end of the season.
The Blues are still in the FA Cup and face Middlesbrough later this month. Lukaku has scored in two of the Blues’ three matches in that competition.
Meanwhile, both forwards have contributed with goals in the Champions League. Tuchel’s men have a two-goal advantage over Lille ahead of their last-16 second leg in France.
Chelsea sit third in the Premier League and they have not yet sealed their top-four finish, amid Liverpool and Manchester City breaking away above them.
Below Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are among the teams fighting to finish in the other two Champions League qualification places.