There used to be a time in Chelsea’s history where you simply, under any circumstance, could not sub off Eden Hazard. It didn’t matter how tired he was or how close the game was. For far too many games, he was the only player that could be trusted to pull a rabbit out of the hat at any given moment.
Largely, that’s okay provided the player A: stays and B: can keep doing that. But Hazard eventually left and very few players can consistently pull through every single game. Chelsea has lacked a difference maker in many ways since Hazard left.
Enter Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker has been fantastic at Chelsea thus far, showcasing an ability to pull a goal from thin air. But he can’t be the only one. It simply isn’t sustainable to rely on one player pulling the club through rough patches. Though the season is early yet, the Blues really need other difference makers to stand up and be counted before Lukaku runs out of steam.
The last two matches surely highlighted this the most. Aston Villa ultimately ended 3-0, but that is a flattering score line given how the match played out. Were it not for Lukaku opening the floodgates, it could have easily stayed 0-0 or worse. The same was true for Zenit. The Blues had little in the way of ingenuity until Lukaku quite literally latched on to a ball out of thin air to put it in the net.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that Edouard Mendy and pretty much every defender is a difference maker, just not the kind being spoken about here. They keep the Blues in the match which is incredibly important but, and this may surprise you, you cannot win a match without scoring a goal. Revolutionary stuff, truly. Lukaku can score, but if he needs a rest or is injured, who else looks to be scoring?
This was somewhat of an issue even last year, but the Blues were all the way on the other end of the spectrum. Instead of having one goal scorer, the Blues seemingly had a different one every match. While this looks good on paper, it also isn’t sustainable. If you never really know who can be trusted to pull you through, it is hard to trust anyone. At the same time, you want to have a variety of options and right now it is pretty much Lukaku.
In the current 3-4-2-1 set up, those difference makers are going to be the front three and occasionally the wingbacks. That’s why it is telling that, besides Lukaku, Marcos Alonso is the only player that has put a real stamp on matches this season. Kai Havertz has faded in and out, looking clever but never too clever. Mason Mount has been full of energy off the ball, but looks as though he’s trying too hard to flip silly narratives on it. Hakim Ziyech has been present and that’s about the best that can be said about his recent performances. Christian Pulisic has largely been injured. Timo Werner, strangely, has gone from the second most trusted player by Tuchel to barely seeing the pitch.
The defense and Mendy are holding Chelsea together at the back. They are preventing the team from losing games. But who, besides Lukaku, is really helping the side win? Mateo Kovacic perhaps, but his position in the system means he is usually going to be part of the process rather than the result. The forwards around Lukaku need to step up and put a real marker on matches.
Because, like it or not, Lukaku will fail to score at some point. When he does so, who is going to fill the gap? Right now, there really isn’t a clear answer.
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