Premier League • England

Tuchel explains Romelu Lukaku absence as he clears up long-standing Timo Werner mystery

Chelsea striker Timo Werner celebrates goal v Southampton during Premier League game

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel says Romelu Lukaku looks a doubt for next week’s crucial Champions League quarter-final second leg clash at Real Madrid after explaining his absence against Southampton.

The Belgian striker has struggled to adapt at Stamford Bridge since a £97.5m move last summer, scoring 12 goals in 35 appearances this season. Indeed, such has been his struggles that plenty has been written about Lukaku’s future, with talk of a return to Inter Milan gathering pace.

Wherever he ends up ,Chelsea will need Lukaku firing between now and the end of the season. The Blues at least responded to two damaging defeats over the last week to record a comprehensive 6-0 win at Southampton.

However, they did so without Lukaku, who was not even part of the matchday squad due to an Achilles injury.

That restricted him to only a substitute role against Real Madrid on Wednesday, with the Blues suffering a 3-1 defeat.

And it’s quite likely they will travel to Spain on Monday for the return leg of their Champions League tie against Real without the powerful forward.

“He was not in training yesterday,” Tuchel told Sky Sports when asked about the striker. “It [his Achilles] was too much pain. It is not much time as we leave the country on Monday so I will have to wait.”

With Lukaku absent, Chelsea were at least not short of goals on the south coast. Indeed, another struggling striker, Timo Werner, helped himself to two in the 6-0 romp. That was his first Chelsea double in over 18 months.

Timo Werner comes in for Tuchel praise

And Tuchel was happy with the German’s performance at St Mary’s.

“He could have scored more,” Tuchel said in reference to Werner also hitting the woodwork either side of his first goal. “He had huge chances and a lot of chances.”

Werner was deployed in a deeper attacking role, just behind Kai Havertz and alongside Mason Mount in a 3-4-2-1 formation.

And, in clearing up a long-standing mystery, Tuchel’s claims the more withdrawn role is Werner’s favoured position.

“It was his favourite position against an opponent we knew we could find spaces in behind. It was for him to make a statement out of it which he did. He could have scored more but we are happy with his strong performance.”

That said, Havertz looks likely to continue as the attacking spearhead against Real Madrid.

Indeed, the former Bayer Leverkusen man was given the second half off, giving a strong nod to Tuchel’s thoughts.

“It was a very good performance and a well deserved win,” Tuchel concluded. “It is a tough stadium to come to but we made it look easy. In possession we were very focused so it’s a very good performance and an excellent result.”

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