Thomas Tuchel insists Romelu Lukaku is "part of the solution" to getting Chelsea firing despite the Belgian's struggles for form.
Though the Blues have lost just one game since the start of 2021 and remain well placed for success in a number of competitions, including the Champions League ahead of Tuesday's round of 16 first leg against Lille (catch all the action on Paramount+), their attack has largely struggled to catch fire. For instance, Tuchel's side average four fewer shots and 0.6 fewer expected goals per game than Manchester City. That means Chelsea are more reliant on their defense to grind their way to points.
No forward has more visibly struggled than club record signing Lukaku, who set a new record for fewest touches in 90 minutes of a Premier League game since Opta began tracking data, registering just seven in Saturday's 1-0 win over Crystal Palace. The Belgian has not scored in a top flight match this season (his three goals have come in the FA Cup and the Club World Cup) and acknowledged in December that he has struggled to fit into Tuchel's system.
The German acknowledged that the absence of key players, most notably wing backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell, had hamstrung his side's attack but vowed that any adaptations to the plan would involve Lukaku.
"Every style changes with long term injuries of key players. We've played many games, the majority of games, with wing backs and two of the key wing backs are Reece and Chilly, who got injured at their peak level," said Tuchel. "They had a huge impact to our game offensively and defensively, regarding Romelu of course offensively with their runs, their speed, their penetration and their deliveries.
"We are not the only team where players have a huge impact. In the formation we play, the wing backs are crucial and positioned to influence the game. Still, we can play and win games without any player. This is our job and what we want to do. When we have injuries, corona cases, it's on us and me to adapt. Romelu will always be part of the solution."
On the striker's lack of touches, Tuchel joked: "What can I do? I don't know." He added: "We have to deal with it. The data is out there and it speaks a certain language, so he wasn't involved in our game. It's sometimes like this with strikers if they struggle a bit with self confidence, to find the space and get involved against a good defensive side. It can be like this.
"It's of course not what we want and not what Romelu wants. It's not the time to laugh about him and make jokes. He's in the spotlight and we will protect him."
Lukaku is not the only high profile striker to struggle in a Chelsea shirt. Timo Werner was signed a year before but has scored just 18 goals in 73 games while Alvaro Morata, Radamel Falco and Fernando Torres can all attest to what seems to be the cursed nature of the No.9 shirt at Stamford Bridge.
"There's even a history of strikers struggling at Chelsea so it's not the easiest place for strikers," said Tuchel. "Obviously I don't know exactly why it's like this, but obviously it is. In my opinion Chelsea is a team that is considered a strong defensive team, a physical team that has a certain attitude and grip 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 and not only a skillful game. That maybe plays a part. We have had many games in our year together where we created many chances, many deliveries and struggled a bit in the conversion. Now is a moment where we struggle to create too many big chances for our strikers. I think this is maybe a normal period in a long season.
"We are on the subject. We are well aware. Like always in football it is not one reason. It's a very complex sport. We try to keep on playing with faith and belief in what we do."
Tuchel said he is optimistic that Cesar Azpilicueta will return from injury, offering his side an option at right back that they did not have against Palace, whilst Mason Mount could be among the substitutes against Lille on Tuesday though he is yet to train with the team. Callum Hudson-Odoi remains an injury doubt.