Antonio Conte sends Chelsea Romelu Lukaku warning which holds key to Tuchel’s title ambition
Chelsea’s pretty toothless attacking displays in the defeats to Manchester City and Juventus have brought up the question of the use of Romelu Lukaku so far this campaign.
The forward’s strong start to the season, netting four goals in the same number of games justified the Blues record-breaking transfer to bring the Belgian back to Stamford Bridge.
However, general attacking frustrations have led to questions over how Thomas Tuchel can better utilise Lukaku in his system, with the striker looking isolated in previous weeks. The 28-year-old’s former head coach Antonio Conte might have given the answer to a concerning question troubling Tuchel.
Giving quotes as a pundit in midweek to Sky Italia Conte said: “He is a very specific striker. Bringing Lukaku into the box, he is dangerous. However, when he starts from midfield, he is incredibly quick. It is very difficult to find a player who is both a target man, but can also run from midfield.
“It’s a tactical situation too, a centre-forward who goes looking for the opposition defender, backs into him and lays it off for whoever is supporting him. That is a tactical approach used in basketball as well.
“The good thing about Romelu is that he can hurt you anywhere. If you keep him far away from the penalty area, he can kill you with his pace. If you have him in the box, he has the physicality to be a target man.”
Conte’s quotes point to a wider discussion being had amongst Chelsea supporters at the moment after the Blues only registered one shot on target in their previous two games – that shot coming from Lukaku.
There was a feeling Tuchel would have to alter his approach with the arrival of such a focal point in his team.
This is already showing with the Blues lacking the pressing intensity they had under the German last term, whilst struggling to get Lukaku into the game with opponents successfully cutting off the supply line from midfield.
Lukaku’s late miss against Juventus was galling for a player of his quality, but the numbers indicate a wider creative issue that is forcing fine margins for the forward to work within. Scoring two goals from the same number of shots against Aston Villa in September provided proof of the forward’s elite finishing, but has been proven to be unsustainable.
He did similar against Zenit, wandering as a peripheral figure isolated and frustrated against the Russian’s low-block. Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross provided him with the perfect chance to break the deadlock, which he did, but it is a trend that needs to be broken if Chelsea hopes to fully realise the high ceiling Lukaku’s involvement provides.
The lack of Mason Mount and Reece James in the previous two games have not helped either, both proving to be two of the best creators so far in the Premier League this season with xA (Expected Assists). But the lack of numbers to assist Lukaku in attack and inventive ways to create chances from wide areas has made Chelsea’s attacking plan look pretty stale.
There is also the case of Tuchel’s belief in counter-pressing which has been hampered by Lukaku’s arrival. Only Allan Sainte-Maximin and Cristiano Ronaldo have made fewer pressures than Lukaku in the Premier League so far, detailed by The Athletic.
For the second half of last season, Tuchel regularly opted to field a fluid front-three that rarely involved a more recognisable striker in Olivier Giroud or Tammy Abraham – both of whom are no longer at the club.
“During the game, there are moments when Lukaku needs to be turned on, but other than that he is one of the toughest forwards to play against because he can do damage in any area of the pitch. If you have a centre-forward like that, you need to use him and I don’t think Chelsea have quite figured out how to use him yet.” Conte continued on Chelsea’s issues.
“Last season, they didn’t have a proper centre-forward, so they rotated positions, whereas Romelu is a real reference point in attack. If they can figure out how to use Lukaku, then Chelsea can become the team to beat in the Champions League this season.”
Conte’s work with Lukaku should be headed as he helped to transform the Belgian into the complete attacker that spearheaded Inter Milan’s Scudetto triumph last season.
Tuchel has already seen the goalscoring benefit of Lukaku and it should not be all doom and gloom as the Blues enter a run of favourable fixtures. But further utilising the world-class man is the key to Chelsea’s title ambitions, how Tuchel approaches this issue in the coming weeks will be telling to those ambitions.