Thomas Tuchel claimed a star struggling at Chelsea could be deployed in a whole new position, while the German refused to commit when asked about Romelu Lukaku.
Chelsea take on West Ham in the lunchtime kick off on Saturday. The Blues currently sit atop the Premier League after narrowly securing three points against Watford in midweek.
The Hammers will provide a stern test with David Moyes’ side enjoying another superb campaign thus far.
Adding to the difficulty of the contest will be Chelsea’s lengthy list of injuries, including four players Tuchel confirmed would miss the clash during his Friday press conference.
“Almost need a list,” joked the German (via Football London). “Mateo Kovacic, N’Golo [Kante], Ben Chilwell and Trevoh Chalobah all out tomorrow. Everyone else is available.”
That means Reece James, Jorginho and Timo Werner will all be available after missing out with minor niggles against Watford. Jorginho and Werner did make the bench, though neither were introduced to the action.
On the return of James and Jorginho specifically, Tuchel admitted: “It is massive.
“Reece is the specialist on the side and Jorginho is the guy left from Kovacic, NG [Kante] and him from the midfield three in a central role. We are happy that Jorgi is back in training and we can’t wait for NG and Kova to come back.”
When asked if he believes West Ham are currently deserving of their position in the top four, Tuchel had nothing but positive things to say about their weekend opponents.
Tuchel said: “They almost got there last season and have been fighting the whole season for these plays. They show a huge solidarity, always a huge joy to watch their games.
“[They] didn’t have too many changes and play as a team and do what they do very good. They deserve to be there, they play strong in Europe. It is a tough match and a tough team to play against, but it is also tough to play against us.”
Tuchel sidesteps Lukaku question
Handing club-record signing Romelu Lukaku a start would undoubtedly aid their chances of success. However, after recently returning from an ankle injury, Tuchel refused to commit to starting his centre-forward.
“I will not tell you [if Lukaku will start]. He is in training, he is eager to start, he wants to start,” said the Blues boss.
“It is difficult for Romelu and all the other guys after injuries to hit top level. We should try always to reach it.
“Watford caused us a lot of problems. They didn’t allow us many chances and it was a mental game to hang in there and be ready to be clinical. Tomorrow will be new questions.”
Tuchel proposes positional change
Attention turned to Chelsea loanee, Saul Niguez. The Spaniard has laboured at Stamford Bridge and was hooked at half time for the second time this season against Watford.
Tuchel noted Saul is still “adapting” to the English style of play, and suggested he may be better suited to a wingback role.
Ben Chilwell’s injury has left Marcos Alonso as his only specialised player in the position. However, Saul was occasionally deployed on the left by Diego Simeone in his latter Atletico years.
“He’s still adapting,” added Tuchel. “He had an early yellow card and was a bit shy to play all in with duels and for that we lacked a bit of physicality.
“I think that he could play in a wing-back role for us. He is very strong in arriving in the box. We sometimes do this in training which is we think he could maybe be a good fit.
Finally, the Chelsea manager threw his backing behind Hakim Ziyech. The Morrocan playmaker hasn’t shown his best since joining from Ajax in 2020. Nevertheless, Tuchel hinted the attacker is beginning to find his feet in the capital and the best could be yet to come.
“I like him. I can feel it that he feels better now. He was always very ambitious with the shoulder injury but I feel that he can get 100 per cent.
“He smiles, feels decisive, had a huge impact from the bench. He’s in good form and a good state of mind.”