You know the general health of your football club is strong when the return of Romelu Lukaku is deemed a concern.
Thomas Tuchel was asked about Lukaku’s fitness before the clash with his former club at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
The Belgian returned to the squad against Juventus after recovering from his ankle injury suffered last month against Malmo but didn’t get off the bench.
Although the German confirmed his forward is available for selection he played down the chances of him starting against Manchester United. “Romelu is in training. If you ask the player he will say he can start for sure. There is a bigger difference between being ready for training and being ready for games.
There is also a difference between being ready for games and being ready for a Premier League game.” Tuchel said during Friday’s pre-match press conference.
“We only have three changes so the possibility he starts is not very high because we can’t be sure what happens in matches and we have to find the balance between giving minutes and being absolutely competitive for 90 minutes with the guys that start.”
With Lukaku unlikely to start, the question over who will fill Chelsea’s central attacking role remains unclear.
Timo Werner returned to the team on Tuesday to net the Blues fourth, but very rarely plays in the middle of Tuchel’s attacking trio, usually from the left.
Which then realistically leaves two options.
One option is the returning Kai Havertz. The German has been the main replacement during Lukaku’s injury, scoring against Malmo, Southampton and Burnley before the last international break.
Tuchel favoured playing Havertz in a central role in the remaining weeks of last season, leading to his winning goal in the Champions League final.
The 22-year-old’s physical profile matches that of a centre forward standing at 1.9m (6 ft 3 in) with three of his four goals for Chelsea so far coming from headers.
But the issue of Havertz profile sometimes does not blend as well with Hakim Ziyech, who started against Juventus and has created two goals in his last two games, scoring against Malmo in the previous outing before that.
Both players more languid style, favouring to operate in similar areas and wanting to drop deeper to receive the ball to feet can sometimes cancel each other out.
Against Manchester United, who might come to Stamford Bridge with a reactive approach under interim Micheal Carrick asking Tuchel’s men to break them down.
This is where the other option in Christian Pulisic comes up, who in his last two appearances has been used as a centre forward, rather than off the left.
The American scored his second Premier League goal of the season against Leicester, proving a strong connection with Ziyech who had come off the bench at the same time.
Three days later the pair started together against Juventus and although Chelsea won emphatically, that connection was hard to replicate.
Pulisic’s fitness will consistently be a concern after such a long time out, but his anticipation inside the box and darting runs might be better suited to stretch a weakened Man United backline.
Havertz would likely be favoured given the previous history and his reputation, but that could make Chelsea’s fluid game stutter on Sunday if Tuchel opts to keep Ziyech in the team.
Pulisic is a less obvious presence that could help Chelsea’s more fluid attack continue to flow with confidence and swagger.
It looks to be a difficult call for Tuchel, in a high-profile game with his £98m talisman likely to return in upcoming games.
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Source by Football London