Chelsea 3-1 Southampton: Picture highlights
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There are elements of football management similar to going out for dinner with friends. You look at what has been served to you on the plate, look at that of the acquaintance opposite you and, before you know it, food envy has encompassed you.
Thomas Tuchel knows exactly what this feels like, except his stomach rumbles were caused by striker envy. The Chelsea boss returned to Stamford Bridge barely four months after winning the Champions League title.
He had a World Cup winner in Olivier Giroud, the poacher of Porto in Kai Havertz — whose classy goal overthrew Manchester City in the Champions League final in May — and a precocious forward in Tammy Abraham, who topped the club’s goalscoring charts despite barely featuring under the German.
Three classy and expensive courses were on Tuchel’s plate, but he could not stop glancing at former Chelsea boss and then Inter Milan manager Antonio Conte’s table, who had taken Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United and turned him into the main Scudetto winning centre-piece of the San Siro.
Chelsea paid the hefty premium for the Belgian, and offloaded Giroud and Abraham to the tables of AC Milan and Roma.The £98m man has paid his dues to Chelsea with four goals in his first 10 appearances.
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However, just like watching a waiter trip while carrying his order, Tuchel’s stomach may have dropped in fear after hearing Lukaku has been sent home from international duty by Belgium manager Roberto Martinez.
Lukaku’s recent run of five appearances without a goal for Chelsea is perhaps a slight fast for his high standards, but he has still performed admirably at the head of the table for the Blues.
The extent of its seriousness is currently unknown, but if the news is bad, then Tuchel could regret the way in which his two alternative striking ingredients, Giroud and Abraham, were cast aside. Abraham in particular has thrived this season at a new table.
As soon as Lukaku arrived, former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho – now in charge of AS Roma – was quick to grab Abraham while he was still hot.
His energy, striking instincts, and movement in the box have improved vastly whilst playing in Serie A, as demonstrated in the way in which he got across his man for his goal in England’s 5-0 away victory against Andorra.
The four goals he has contributed is equal to that of Lukaku at Chelsea, except Abraham has also been able to assist his teammates in the process.
Mourinho looks to have given Abraham the Michelin star treatment at Roma, and if the news on Lukaku’s injury setback is serious, then the striker envy could return for Tuchel.
After all, the former Paris Saint-Germain manager’s options from the bench are nowhere near as prolific as Lukaku.
Timo Werner’s pace and running are always troublesome for opposition defences, but his poor finishing statistics and lack of a clinical edge means he is more suited as a side-dish rather than the main course.
Havertz has led the line respectably as a ‘false nine’ for Tuchel in the past, and his display against Manchester City in the Champions League final was delicious.
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But the German’s confidence looks to have taken a knock, and Tuchel cranked up the heat on the 21-year-old by demanding more flavour and more substance.
When he hits the spot, there are very few better than the former Bayer Leverkusen forward. But overall, his form has unfortunately been too elusive for the Blues.
It is fair to say his best displays, not just for Chelsea but also for Leverkusen, have often been discovered when he has played as the ‘false nine’.
Tuchel will be hoping Lukaku returns quickly, otherwise he could even start looking longingly at the other Premier League or European tables.
But with Havertz within his reach he has an exceptional ingredient on his plate already. If the accompaniments are correct, he could deputise at the head of the table in Lukaku’s absence.
Tuchel has cooked up some wonderful things for Chelsea this season — and he may have to find another recipe for success if Lukaku is sidelined.
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