Chelsea: Thomas Tuchel and co face a crucial January window with key players out and Lukaku unhappy

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Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea are facing a crucial January transfer window which could make or break their season after losing a host of first-team players to injury and with three key defenders out of contract next summer.

The Blues have drifted out of the Premier League title race over the past month, and currently sit a massive 11 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City having won just three of their last eight matches.

Almost a year since taking the reins, Tuchel is undoubtedly enduring his most challenging period yet at Stamford Bridge and must devise a plan to resurrect their season in January.

Here, Sportsmail takes a look at the biggest issues he needs to overcome next month, including the small matter of resettling a £97.5million striker… 

Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea face a crucial January which could make or break their season

Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea face a crucial January which could make or break their season

Injury woes  

Tuchel has been dealt a number of injury blows in recent months, the most serious of which was when Ben Chilwell sustained a season-ending knee problem against Juventus in November.

Chilwell will likely be unavailable for the rest of the campaign after undergoing surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament, leaving Marcos Alonso as the only natural left wing-back available.

A January signing may well be required, with Everton’s Lucas Digne and Ajax’s Nicolas Tagliafico already being touted as potential short-term replacements. But Tuchel could also deploy Saul Niguez as a makeshift wing-back or look to recall Emerson Palmieri or Ian Maatsen from loan spells at Lyon and Coventry respectively.

And to add to Tuchel’s woes, Reece James is also facing a lengthy period on the sidelines after tearing his hamstring during Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Brighton.

Ben Chilwell is set to miss the rest of the season after damaging his anterior cruciate ligament

Ben Chilwell is set to miss the rest of the season after damaging his anterior cruciate ligament

Reece James is also facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines after suffering a hamstring injury

Reece James is also facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines after suffering a hamstring injury

While he is not expected to miss the rest of the season like Chilwell, James – arguably Chelsea’s player of the season so far – could miss a number of key fixtures and leave Tuchel short of options at right wing-back.

Cesar Azpilicueta is the only suitable option to replace him, as Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic have not impressed as makeshift wing-backs this term. 

Thus, Tuchel’s biggest transfer priority next month should be to target a wing-back capable of operating on both flanks, such as Barcelona’s Sergino Dest, whose versatility is said to appeal to Chelsea officials.

Thiago Silva, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen are also out injured, yet all three have only sustained minor knocks.

Contract dilemmas 

Another pressing issue for Chelsea heading into the New Year comes in the shape of Christensen, Antonio Rudiger and Azpilicueta – three key defenders who are out of contract in the summer.

The trio are all now eligible to speak to clubs across Europe ahead of a free transfer in the summer, and each player appears to have potential suitors hoping to prise them away from Stamford Bridge.

Spanish outlet Sport claim Christensen, who has produced the best form of his Blues career under Tuchel, has no intention of penning a new deal and is looking to join Barcelona at the end of the season.

Rudiger is seemingly on the verge of sealing a switch to Real Madrid, who The Telegraph claim are prepared to double the £140,000-a-week offer Chelsea made to keep him.

And Azpilicueta, the club captain, is also wanted by Barca despite The Athletic reporting that his priority is to remain in SW6.

Silva is also out of contract in June, but reports suggest he will be committing to fresh terms in the near future.

If extensions aren’t nailed down in the coming weeks, Tuchel and Chelsea risk losing three important first-team players on free transfers next summer, which would represent a financial and footballing setback. 

Thiago Silva is also set to become a free agent next summer but should sign an extension

Thiago Silva is also set to become a free agent next summer but should sign an extension

Lukaku unhappy

As if Tuchel and Chelsea didn’t have enough on their plate, Romelu Lukaku has compounded their misery by expressing his unhappiness and an apparent desire to return to Inter Milan in an explosive interview with Sky Italy.

Lukaku, who has only scored five league goals in 13 games since sealing a £97.5million move back to the Bridge, hit out at Tuchel after being frozen out of the side in recent weeks and claimed he never wanted to leave Inter over the summer.

‘Physically I am fine. But I’m not happy with the situation at Chelsea. Tuchel has chosen to play with another system,’ he said.

‘I won’t give up, I’ll be professional. I am not happy with the situation but I am professional – and I can’t give up now.’

Tuchel also has an unhappy Romelu Lukaku to deal with after his explosive recent interview

Tuchel also has an unhappy Romelu Lukaku to deal with after his explosive recent interview

The Belgian added: ‘I think everything that happened last summer was not supposed to happen like this… how I left Inter, the way I left the club, how I communicated with Inter fans – this bothers me because it was not the right time.

‘Now it’s the right time to share my feelings. I have always said that I have Inter in my heart: I know I will return to Inter, I really hope so. I am in love with Italy, this is right moment to talk and let people know what really happened.’

Lukaku’s comments came earlier this month, before he returned to form by scoring two goals in as many games against Aston Villa and Brighton. But Tuchel must now find the right balance between disciplining his star striker and not pushing him further away.

With Timo Werner and Kai Havertz currently out with Covid, and the likes of Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic not performing, he desperately needs the 28-year-old to keep momentum going in the New Year.

He needs to ensure the striker stays on track and continues firing with other key men out

He needs to ensure the striker stays on track and continues firing with other key men out

Tuchel’s track record

When dealt with similar adversities in the past, Tuchel has not always managed to get things back on track.

His tenures with Borussia Dortmund and PSG both came crashing down thanks to transfer-related squabbles with club officials, meaning history could repeat itself if Chelsea do not strengthen sufficiently next month.

He is not afraid to condemn his bosses in public, too, saying prior to his PSG departure that he felt ‘more like a sports politician than a coach’ at the Parc des Princes.

Tuchel had a good track record for dealing with disruptive players in his time at PSG

Tuchel had a good track record for dealing with disruptive players in his time at PSG

Nevertheless, Tuchel has much better fortunes when confronted by a player throwing his toys out of the pram.

The German was subjected to some of the biggest egos in world football at PSG, with Kylian Mbappe gesturing furiously towards him after being replaced during a comfortable win over Montpellier.

Yet Mbappe’s outburst was swiftly put to bed without any lingering issues, and Tuchel eventually guided the Paris club to their first ever Champions League final that season.

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