Thomas Tuchel has insisted Romelu Lukaku’s struggles are no laughing matter, pledging Chelsea’s full protection for the Belgian striker.
Lukaku had just seven touches in Saturday’s 1-0 Premier League win at Crystal Palace in another test outing for the Blues.
The battle over signing the club-record £98million to find his niche at Stamford Bridge looks likely to rumble on, leaving boss Tuchel quickly jumping to his defence.
“Well, now we have to deal with it, the data is there and speaks a certain language,” Tuchel said.
“He wasn’t very involved in our game and that’s sometimes how it is with forwards.
“If they’re having a bit of a hard time building confidence, if they’re having a little bit of a hard time finding the space and getting involved against a defensive team, that can be it.
“Of course this is not what we want and what Romelu wants.
“But now is not the time to laugh at him, to make jokes about him either. He is in the spotlight of course, and we will protect him.
Tuchel vowed to make Chelsea a side no one wanted to play against by taking charge of west London and his Blues have always proved defensively resolute.
And the former Paris St Germain manager admitted that a solid teak set-up could impact Lukaku’s ability.
When asked if Lukaku’s struggles could be a consequence of the well-rehearsed defensive setup, Tuchel replied: “Yes, maybe, maybe. There is even a story of attackers struggling a bit. at Chelsea, so obviously it’s not the easiest place in the world for forwards.
“I don’t know exactly why it is like that, but obviously it is like that.
“In my opinion, Chelsea are also a team that is considered a strong defensive team, a physical team that has a certain attitude and courage in competitive football.
“We demand a lot from our attackers in terms of defence.
“We want to be a physical, hardworking group that doesn’t shy away from making it a physical game and not just a skillful game. And that may play a role, yes.
“We had many games throughout our time together when we created many chances, many deliveries and struggled a bit to convert.
“Now at the moment is a bit of a time when we struggle to create a lot of great chances for our forwards.
“It may also be a normal period in a long season. So we are on the subject, we are well aware. And as always in football, it is not just a reason to solve the problem.
“It’s a very complex sport and we try to keep playing with faith in what we do and the team effort – and from there we go.”
Chelsea host Lille in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday, with Tuchel determined to see the Blues continue to defend their European crown.
Cesar Azpilicueta could be fit to return after a groin problem, although Callum Hudson-Odoi’s chances look much slimmer due to an Achilles issue.
Mason Mount could make the bench after an ankle problem but is unlikely to be ready to start.
Mount should, however, remain on track to be able to start Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Liverpool.
“Azpi looks much better than Callum, to start with those two,” Tuchel said.
“Callum didn’t train yesterday, Azpi trained and had no reaction, so if it stays that way – which appears to be the case – then he’s available for tomorrow.
“Mason had a very good individual session, I think he will try to get back to training as a team today.
“But he’s been out maybe a bit too long to start with, but maybe he can be involved in the team, but he hasn’t trained with the team yet.”