Thomas Tuchel provided an update on the fitness of three players who missed our weekend win at Crystal Palace, rating two as having a chance of involvement in the Champions League this week.
Chelsea host Lille in the first leg of the last-16 tie as the defence of our European crown reaches the knockout round, with our record in cup football particularly impressive under Thomas Tuchel’s stewardship.
Ahead of the encounter, Tuchel revealed that Callum Hudson-Odoi would likely miss the game as he continues to struggle with pain around the Achilles. However, Cesar Azpilicueta has responded better to treatment from a groin injury, while Mason Mount is expected to rejoin team training later on Monday afternoon. Reece James and Ben Chilwell remain sidelined.
‘Azpi looks much better than Callum,’ said the boss at his pre-match press conference via video link from Cobham.
‘Callum did not train yesterday but Azpi trained and had no reaction so if it stays like this then he’s available for tomorrow.
‘Mason did a very good individual session. He will try to come back to team training today but he was out maybe a little bit too long to start. Perhaps he is involved with the squad but he has not trained with the team yet.'
Much was made of Romelu Lukaku’s involvement in the game throughout our 1-0 victory at Selhurst Park on Saturday afternoon, with the Belgian striker registering just seven touches of the ball throughout the 90 minutes.
Tuchel was asked whether our number nine’s difficulties have arisen from the absence of James and Chilwell, with the team lacking the presence of our two most attacking wing-backs and struggling to create frequent big opportunities in the final third.
‘Every style changes with long-term injuries of key players,’ admitted the German. ‘We played the majority of our games in a back three with wing-backs and two of the key wing-backs are Reece and Chilly, who got injured at their peak level. They had a huge impact on our game offensively and defensively regarding Romelu with their runs, speed, penetration and their deliveries.
‘We are not the only team where players have this huge impact and in the formation that we play, the wing-backs are in a crucial position to influence the game but still we can also play and win games without any player. This is our job and this is what we try to do when we have injuries or coronavirus cases. It’s on me to adapt and find solutions and Romelu will always be part of the solution.
‘We have to deal with it. There is data out there and the data speaks a certain language. He was not involved in our game [against Palace], sometimes it’s like this with strikers if they struggle a bit with self-confidence or to find the space and get involved against a good defensive side.
‘It’s not what we want and not what Romelu wants but it’s not the time to laugh about him and make jokes. He is in the spotlight and we will protect him because he’s our player.’
Addressing the issue of whether the team was set up too conservatively to maximise Lukaku’s strengths, Tuchel pondered the difficulties faced by many previous Chelsea strikers over the years and also admitted we need to improve in terms of chance creation.
'There’s even a history of strikers struggling a little bit at Chelsea so it’s not the easiest place in the world for strikers but I don’t know exactly why it’s like this,’ he added.
‘Chelsea is considered a strong defensive team, a physical team that has a certain attitude and driven in playing competitive football. We demand a lot from our strikers in terms of defending. We want to be a physical, hard-working group that is not shy to make it a physical game, not only a skilful game, so maybe that plays a part.
‘We had many games throughout our year together where we created many chances but struggled a bit in the conversion. Now at the moment it’s a time where we struggle to create too many big chances for our strikers and I think this is a normal period in a long season.
‘We are well aware of it but like most of the time in football, there’s not one way to solve a problem. It’s a very complex sport and we try to keep on playing with belief in the team effort.’