Romelu Lukaku Chelsea failure forces Thomas Tuchel to making vital tactical change – Daniel Childs


As Chelsea players emerged from the tunnel for the second half at The London Stadium, the camera focused on Romelu Lukaku.

The commanding forward cracked his neck and knuckles as he strutted towards the touchline, ready to go into battle and dominate a hostile occasion. This is what he was bought for, a figure reborn from an older Chelsea team to face danger head-on with unrelenting confidence and aggression.

Then the second half passed Lukaku by.

You would have been forgiven for having to check if he was actually on the pitch and not still on the substitutes bench chatting with his pal Callum Hudson-Odoi.

The sight of Lukaku completely disconnected from Chelsea’s overall play is nothing new, in many ways Saturday afternoon was just a continuation of what we saw preceding his injury in October.

16 touches in 45 minutes further demonstrate that with 19 in his last Premier League start away to Brentford. His one registered shot was a wayward header when the 28-year-old desperately tried to make something out of a poor cross.

Chelsea’s marquee summer arrival has not registered a shot on target for his club since the 29th of September away to Juventus in Turin.

Most of the Belgian’s work was done with his back to goal, consistently centred in the middle of a crowded area, receiving the ball with only limited options at his disposal, forced to lay it back to a teammate as Claret shirts shut off any space.



Lukaku is pinned up against Craig Dawson, ready to receive a pass back to goal from Jorginho.
Lukaku is pinned up against Craig Dawson, ready to receive a pass back to goal from Jorginho.



Lukaku is instantly swamped by four West Ham defenders, playing the ball into Mason Mount who then looks out wide to Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Lukaku is instantly swamped by four West Ham defenders, playing the ball into Mason Mount who then looks out wide to Callum Hudson-Odoi.

In the above images, especially when Jorginho has the ball it probably is indicative of Chelsea’s predictable play that the Italian did not look for a switch out to Reece James, the Blues most threatening creative presence.

Instead of playing the ball into a cul-de-sac where West Ham had the numerical advantage, Lukaku gets nowhere, recycling the ball to Mount who eventually is forced out wide.

Lukaku did manage to vary up his movement, once being able to venture into his favoured right-hand channel which has become a trademark of his game for Inter Milan and Belgium.



Lukaku drives from the right with Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi looking to get into the box.
Lukaku drives from the right with Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi looking to get into the box.

This was a rare sight of an attacking move very similar to something you would see from Lukaku with Belgium.

It looks almost identical to an attack in the opening minutes of the UEFA Nations League Semi-Final against France back in October where Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard were the two players looking to sprint into the box.



Lukaku drives from the right with Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi looking to get into the box.
Lukaku drives down the right-hand side as De Bruyne and Hazard make runs into the box awaiting his cross.

Lukaku sprints to the byline before drilling a low cross in. On Saturday he drives inwards, eventually laying the ball back to Mason Mount who runs to the outside before putting in a cross.

It was a sign of more freedom to Lukaku’s game compared to the static role he has seemingly been tasked with so far at Stamford Bridge under Thomas Tuchel.

However, after making this move Tuchel was telling Lukaku to move central, indicating that this wasn’t part of his remit.

This is where Tuchel faces a difficult but vital crossroads this season over his £98m forward.

At the moment it seems like Chelsea have broken their transfer record only to turn one of Europe’s most lethal marksmen into a pretty limited focal point.

It does make me wonder why Tuchel spent the first four months of his tenure making it clear he didn’t fancy either Olivier Giroud or Tammy Abraham? Both left over the summer and you feel either, particularly Giroud, could have fulfilled this role.

But that is not why Chelsea bought Lukaku and it is very easy now to forget why the 28-year-old was acquired.

Chelsea’s finishing was consistently poor last season, particularly in the Premier League. I don’t need to whip out xG numbers here, probably the fact that Jorginho (all from pens) was our top league scorer with seven is enough proof.

The £45m spent on a striker who scored 28 goals in 34 Bundesliga games in 2019/20 only produced six in 35 Premier League appearances in 2020/21.

Lukaku was supposed to be the saviour, the one that couldn’t fail, the overdue successor to Diego Costa.



Romelu Lukaku has another frustrating day for Chelsea against West Ham.
Romelu Lukaku has another frustrating day for Chelsea against West Ham.

For the opening few weeks of this season that appeared to be the case with a dominant display against Arsenal, two goals against Aston Villa and a winner against Zenit.

However, the numbers were showing that Lukaku was outperforming his numbers, very ruthlessly finishing a limited number of chances. Those chances have since dried up and so have his goals.

Tuchel prefers a controlled style of play that has suited Chelsea since his arrival but clearly is unable to unleash the best of Lukaku. As a football coach and professional analyst Harry Brooks described on Twitter, having the side’s attack become more immediate would help, but would lose the control Tuchel desires.

It is not just about the style but also the personnel around Lukaku.

Chelsea’s most proficient creator Reece James has only started four games with Lukaku this season, one of those against Manchester City where James suffered an ankle injury within 25 minutes and was forced off.

The pair showed their link-up away to Arsenal on Lukaku’s second Blues debut, so seeing them start a run of fixtures together in the coming weeks might provide a more positive answer.

Also, Mount’s return to form and influence is perfectly timed for Tuchel and Lukaku. It is little surprise in a flat second half the English midfielder seemed the only Chelsea player regularly able to connect with the forward.

And Hudson-Odoi from the left is a player who has recently enjoyed the best run of his Chelsea career, regularly creating chances for his peers.

All four have the chance to be on the pitch at the same time in the coming weeks and it’s something that Tuchel should try in order to improve Lukaku’s influence.

At the moment games are drifting Lukaku by and usually, that would be a time to criticise the player. But given his lack of touches and the limited role it is hard not to feel this is more of a systemic problem than an individual’s own failings.

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I would be more concerned if Lukaku was getting big opportunities and consistently missing them.

There are players who are worth altering your system for because their influence can win you titles and big games, Lukaku is one of them.

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