Lukaku kept out of 'the next fire' by Chelsea boss Tuchel

By Sports Desk February 22, 2022

Romelu Lukaku was an unused substitute in Chelsea's win over Lille because Thomas Tuchel wanted to keep him out of "the next fire". 

Lukaku was the subject of intense criticism following his display in the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday. 

The Belgium striker managed just seven touches – the fewest of any player to complete 90 minutes in a single top-flight game since Opta has the data available (2003-04) 

Kai Havertz led the line against Lille instead of Lukaku and the Germany international opened the scoring in the first leg of the last-16 tie at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. 

Christian Pulisic wrapped up the win for the Blues, with Tuchel pleased Lukaku was able to escape the spotlight. 

"It was not the moment after the match where everybody was focused on the few touches that we had to put him right into the next fire. It was the moment to take a step back. That was the decision and that's it," said Tuchel. 

"You can clearly see we have a strong win and strong performance. It was a tough match and almost every question is about Romelu. The focus is huge. There were nine other players who did not play. 

"We should never forget we consider this sport a team sport and the 11 guys who play do everything to commit fully to what we plan and commit fully to their team-mates. Those on the bench have to do the same and this is how it works. 

"Especially at Chelsea and especially for us and this is how we win football matches." 

Tuchel said prior to kick-off that Lukaku had been left out because he was "exhausted", though in his post-match news conference he clarified his comments. 

The German made it clear Lukaku has every chance of being selected for the EFL Cup final against Liverpool on Sunday. 

"Every game is different. The focus today was on intensity and a high-speed game. It was about hard work against the ball, off the ball and having intensive teamwork," said Tuchel. 

"Romelu struggled in the last few games a little bit to deliver that. That's what I meant when I felt him a bit tired both mentally and physically. 

"Since the Liverpool game [he missed on January 2], he started every match and there were some extra times as well. Today, we went for three other players with Kai in great shape, very confident and giving a lot of work rate and high-intensity metres for the team. 

"Yes, for the team, the decision doesn't need to be made today but can be in the next four days. He [Lukaku] has every chance to play." 

Since the Liverpool game, only Antonio Rudiger (960) has played more minutes for Chelsea in all competitions than Lukaku (861 – level with Cesar Azpilicueta). 

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