Romelu Lukaku's struggles highlight Chelsea's lack of alternatives

Krishan Davis
Things have not been going Romelu Lukaku's way
Things have not been going Romelu Lukaku's way / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Amid the understandable furore surrounding Romelu Lukaku's £100m transfer from Inter to Chelsea, a potentially significant deficiency in the squad was overlooked.

Despite signing one of the finest strikers on the planet, Chelsea find themselves with no real alternative - as ridiculous as it may sounds given their strength in depth.

Four days on from the prolific Belgian's arrival at Stamford Bridge from Italy in August, Tammy Abraham was allowed to travel in the opposite direction to join Roma - stripping the Blues of the only individual who came anywhere close to matching Lukaku's profile following Olivier Giroud's own switch to Serie A a month prior.

Perhaps Thomas Tuchel and the Chelsea hierarchy didn't think they would need a second centre-forward, but Lukaku's fast start - four goals in four games - has given way to an unexpected six-match barren spell, prompting concerns the curse of the club's number nine shirt is striking again.

Two months and ten games into his second spell at the club, his coach is being forced to look for answers.

"In the very moment I feel Romelu a bit overplayed," Tuchel said in his pre-match press conference ahead of hosting Malmo in the Champions League. "I think he played too many competitions over the summer, too many competitions with the national team and now he has played the Nations League.

"I feel him a bit mentally tired. Not hugely that we have concern but for me he does not fully enjoy without having second or third thoughts, for me he overplayed and this is the key point. Once he finds his rhythm and things a bit easier he will be fine but it is hard to judge if he really needs a break or if we need to keep him on the pitch.

"The next international break is coming but this is what I feel, particularly for him."

Lukaku will doubtless start scoring again, and ironically that could start tomorrow night at Stamford Bridge, but the problem lies in the fact that he shouldn't be required against the Swedish champions in the first place.

Now Tuchel finds himself juggling the need to rest the Belgium international with the desire to get him back into goalscoring form.

As things stand Chelsea have an embarrassment of riches in literally every position except the central striker role; Timo Werner has shown he is neither suited nor capable of leading the line on his own in the Premier League, while his compatriot and occasional false nine Kai Havertz - when on form - would be wasted as a rotation option for Lukaku in the long-term when the prospect of their link-up play is so mouthwatering.

Granted, it would not have been easy to convince either Abraham or Giroud to remain, with both players already fulfilling their burning, unwavering desire to become starting strikers at top clubs elsewhere. However, while Chelsea were zoned-in on signing a world-class starting frontman, a reliable back-up should have been on their shopping list too.

It shouldn't be ignored that Lukaku's poor goalscoring form is exacerbated by the struggles of the so-called creative players around him. Amid Werner's own crisis of confidence (a player who looks incapable of becoming a 30-goal-per-season striker again), Havertz should be the main alternate source of goals having netted 38 across two seasons before joining Chelsea, but he, Mason Mount and Hakim Ziyech find themselves in ill-timed, simultaneous poor form.

The goal contribution stats make grim reading for that trio, with the Blues forced to lean heavily on some unlikely scorers and creators so far this season; Reece James, Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso have provided more than half the side's assists in all competitions (7 of 13), while Ben Chilwell and Trevoh Chalobah are joint-second in the scoring charts with Werner (2).

Indeed it was Chilwell who turned a draw into a win with a fine finish against a stubborn Brentford side on Saturday evening.

Tuchel will surely see it as a blessing rather than a curse that his squad's attacking threat is spread so broadly, but whether it is sustainable to rely on strikes from elsewhere when your attacking players are misfiring is another question entirely.

Take Lukaku and over-performing defenders out of the equation and it is difficult to see where the goals will come from. If things don't improve quickly it may well become an area Chelsea need to address in January.

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