Romelu Lukaku ‘taken out of the next fire’, so is Kai Havertz Chelsea’s short-term striker solution?

Romelu Lukaku

The questions directed at Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel before and after his side’s Champions League last-16 first-leg win over Lille centred around Romelu Lukaku.

After the 2-0 victory, where he had left his £97.5m summer signing as an unused substitute, Tuchel added it was “the moment to take a step back”.

In the match itself, it was the man who started up front in Lukaku’s place, Kai Havertz, who scored the opening goal and added to his growing reputation as Chelsea’s man for the big moments.

With the League Cup final against Liverpool next up on Sunday, is Havertz now Chelsea’s best option to lead the line at Wembley?

Stepping up while Lukaku takes a step back

It took just eight minutes for Tuchel’s trust in Havertz to pay off on Tuesday as he rose to head home from a corner.

The German forward already had two good chances before then and by the end of a busy first half he had touched the ball 23 times.

In comparison, Lukaku had just two touches of the ball in the first half against Crystal Palace on Saturday, with one of those for the kick-off.

But it was for the focus on such numbers – not an indication of his lack of faith in the striker – that Tuchel decided not to start the former Inter Milan and Manchester United player against Lille.

“It was not the moment after the match, where everyone was focused on his few touches to put him into the next fire,” said the Chelsea manager.

“It was the moment to take a step back, that was the decision and that’s it.

“We have now had a good win and all the questions are still about Romelu, so the focus is huge. There are nine other players who did not play and we should never forget that we consider this sport a team sport.”

‘Certain players have that bit of magic’

Kai Havertz celebrates scoring against Lille

With Lukaku out of the starting XI, it allowed some of the attention to instead be placed on Havertz and his development into a crucial player for Chelsea.

The German is into his second season at Stamford Bridge and, based on statistics alone, his goalscoring record at the club has been solid but certainly not spectacular.

He scored four goals in 27 starts in the Premier League last term and nine in all competitions, while this season he has two in the league and seven overall.

But he is proving himself to be a player who steps up when needed.

He scored the only goal of the game as Chelsea beat Manchester City to win the Champions League last season, while his past three goals have all been crucial ones, coming in the League Cup semi-final, Club World Cup final and now the Champions League last 16.

“He’s got that knack of doing it in big games,” former Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole said on BT Sport.

“Certain players have that spark or that bit of magic and Havertz has got it. That will come into the manager’s thinking when he’s thinking of cup finals and big games.”

Former Manchester United captain Rio Ferdinand added: “The games that are big and need someone to stand up and take responsibility, he gets bigger and stronger. You can see the confidence about him.

“He’s still a young player but he’s making a big impact in big games.”

Could Havertz be Chelsea’s Firmino?

Kai Havertz and Roberto Firmino contest for the ball

Havertz came to Chelsea as a number 10, whose purpose was mainly to create goals for others and chip in occasionally.

But playing in a striker’s position is something the 22-year-old says he enjoys, despite facing competition for the position at Chelsea from Lukaku and Timo Werner.

“It is good for me,” said Havertz.

“We have a lot of good strikers so it is also good to have a change and not make it easy for the opposition. Today it worked good and I enjoy every forward position.”

Cole believes the centre-forward position is one Havertz is capable of flourishing in long term.

“I thought he was brilliant,” he said. “He took charge, he held the ball up well.

“I do [think Havertz’s best position is number nine]. That’s a huge problem because that’s not good for Lukaku.

“He reminds me of [Roberto] Firmino, the player who knits it together. He’d be a nightmare to mark.”

‘A good headache for the manager’

Romelu Lukaku

Lukaku scored twice at the Club World Cup, but he is without a league goal in 2022. And with Werner brought on ahead of him when goalscorer Christian Pulisic was withdrawn late on against the French champions, Lukaku now faces a challenge to prove he should be Tuchel’s first-choice frontman.

“Lukaku is a top player and when a top player finds themselves on the bench they look at themselves,” Chelsea’s former midfielder and assistant manager Jody Morris told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“At the moment it’s not working, but he has notched a couple of goals recently in the Club World Cup. The manager may bring him back for Liverpool at the weekend – it’s that kind of club where you have so many resources.

“It’s a good headache to have for the manager but it’s one where he will think he’s been proven right today.”

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