(Reuters) - A heavy workload for Chelsea's international players may have contributed to their lack of freshness on the pitch in recent games, manager Thomas Tuchel said on Tuesday, but the German backed them to rise to the challenge of competing on all fronts.
Tuchel said striker Romelu Lukaku, who has failed to score in his last six games for the club, could be feeling the effects of a busy schedule after leading the line for Belgium at the European Championship, where they reached the quarter-finals.
Chelsea host Swedish side Malmo in the Champions League on Wednesday, looking to bounce back from a 1-0 defeat by Juventus in their last group game.
"We lack a little bit of form and enthusiasm in the last percent and one big reason is we play too much. Not as a club but the players," Tuchel told a news conference.
"In this moment I feel like Romelu is a bit overplayed, he played too many games over the summer... It is difficult to judge if he really needs a break or if we need to keep him on the pitch.
"This is what I feel particularly for him, some other players too, like with Mason (Mount) and Jorginho, they have a lot of weight to carry for their countries and they take it and they love it and they are competitors... if you play 1,000 matches a year, it can feel heavy."
Tuchel added Christian Pulisic remains unavailable through injury. The American forward has not featured for Chelsea since the opening day of the season against Crystal Palace after suffering an ankle injury during the international break.
"He was getting close (to a return) but then had a little reaction with some pain in his ankle... These are not setbacks from a major injury or any further complications," Tuchel said.
"The recovery is not happening too easily and when he has some pain or some setback, he's had to start all over again. He is very, very close to returning."
Chelsea are second in Group H with three points from two games, three behind leaders Juventus, while Malmo are bottom and have yet to pick up a point.
(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)