The last seven weeks have not been easy for Tammy Abraham.
An ankle injury suffered by the Chelsea striker in the victory over Newcastle United has restricted him to just one 45-minute appearance. And in his absence, several Blues forwards have made telling impacts.
Olivier Giroud scored a wonderful overhead kick in the Champions League against Atletico Madrid. Kai Havertz has returned from injury and proved very effective in a number nine position. Even Timo Werner, despite only finding the net once, has improved.
It is why the international break was viewed as crucial for Abraham. It would give him time to fully recover and a full week to prepare under Thomas Tuchel for the game against West Bromwich Albion.
The match appeared ideal for the German coach to reintegrate Abraham. The Baggies sat 19th in the Premier League table and had won just twice since the start of December.
Yet when the two sides were announced, the 23-year-old’s name was absent. Even more surprisingly, he wasn’t in the match-day squad.
“There are tough choices to make,” Tuchel told Talksport after the game. “We take the choices of what the game demands, of what we predict, of the substitutions that we have.
“In the end, we have to select 18 players for more or less 20 positions. So we have to leave three players out and Tammy was one of the three players. It’s nothing personal or nothing big. He has the same chance to play every three days like everybody else.”
Abraham did feature in five of Tuchel’s opening seven matches in charge. And of those appearances, four came as a starter. The problem is that the England international only once completed a game, on the other three occasions he failed to make it beyond the half-time interval.
Despite this and the fact he has spent the best part of seven weeks on the sidelines, the academy graduate is still Chelsea’s top scorer this season. He has struck 12 times in all competitions for the Blues this term, which is one more than Giroud has managed and two more than Werner.
Abraham was also Chelsea’s leading marksman last season. He ended the 2019/20 campaign, one in which he again nursed an ankle problem, having found the net 18 times.
In total, the 23-year-old has struck 30 goals for the Chelsea first team since establishing himself – via loans at Bristol City, Swansea City and Aston Villa – under Frank Lampard. Not one has been a penalty and only one has come from outside of the 18-yard box. He has done and always will do his best work inside the penalty area.
It is why Tuchel’s decision to omit Abraham from his squad against West Brom was curious.
While the Blues had enjoyed a stellar run of form prior to Saturday’s game, goals hadn’t flowed freely. That still remains the case: Chelsea have yet to score more than twice in a match under the German coach.
Tuchel himself has raised the Blues’ inability to be ruthless in the final third as a problem, so why hasn’t he placed his trust in the club’s most reliable goalscorer?
It is a question that deserves a clearer answer and one you sense Abraham hasn’t had.
Yesterday, the striker responded to a tweet highlighting his goal contributions alongside several of Europe’s other young forwards.
There was nothing controversial about the post, but it did perhaps indicate that Abraham doesn’t feel his goalscoring prowess is truly appreciated.
And that’s why Chelsea’s top scorer appears to be heading towards a career crossroads this summer. The Blues are trying to bring Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland to Stamford Bridge, a striker three years Abraham’s junior.
Given the exorbitant fee required to land the Norwegian, he will be the club’s first-choice forward if the deal is done. And at that point, Abraham would be well within his rights to look elsewhere.
He has been at Chelsea since he was seven years old, knows what it takes to make it where so many others have failed, and has a record that highlights his quality. But that might not be enough for Tuchel. Or for Chelsea.