Romelu Lukaku has seemingly hit out at Federico Pastorello after his agent suggested the striker was unhappy at Chelsea and wanted to return to Inter.

Lukaku has started to find his feet after initially struggling on his £97.5million return to Chelsea from Inter, scoring a brace against Wolves and striking in his last game against Leeds United.

That takes his Premier League tally to eight goals for the season in 25 games, but reports of disgruntlement again circulated on Friday ahead of the FA Cup final with Liverpool.

Thomas Tuchel was left bemused after Pastorello revealed plans to speak to Chelsea's prospective new owners about the striker's future, stating "it is obvious that there was a problem".

Pastorello suggested Lukaku could return to Italy, subject to negotiations with Todd Boehly's consortium, who have signed an agreement to purchase the club from Roman Abramovich in a deal that could be completed by the end of the month, according to reports.

In Pastorello's interview with La Repubblica, he hinted that former club Inter or even neighbours Milan were likely suitors for Lukaku, who has since taken to Instagram to rubbish such suggestions.

"Never ever will I let someone speak for me…," Lukaku posted. "I kept my mouth shut and focused on helping the team and end the season in the best way as possible.

"So if someone out there [is] trying to say something me and the club…Not in my name. RL."

It is not the first time Lukaku's future at Chelsea has been brought into question, after the talisman was quoted by Sky Sport Italy as being "not happy" with his place in Tuchel's first-team plans in December.

Lukaku will look to place off-field concerns to one side when Chelsea face Liverpool at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, Tuchel's side aiming for revenge for the EFL Cup final loss back in February.

Thomas Tuchel suggested he was unaware and not involved with negotiations after Romelu Lukaku's agent revealed plans to speak to Chelsea's prospective new owners about the striker's future.

Lukaku initially struggled on his Stamford Bridge return after joining Chelsea from Inter in a £97.5million move before the start of the 2021-22 season.

However, the Belgium international appears to be slowly finding his feet after managing a double against Wolves and striking in Wednesday's 3-0 Premier League win at Leeds United.

Yet reports of Lukaku's discontent continue to circulate. In December, the striker was quoted by Sky Sport Italy as being "not happy" with his place in Tuchel's first-team plans.

The 29-year-old again caused a stir on Friday after his agent Federico Pastorello suggested Lukaku could return to Italy, subject to negotiations with Todd Boehly's consortium, who have signed an agreement to purchase the club from Roman Abramovich in a deal that could be completed by the end of the month according to reports.

"He has [Inter] and the fans in his heart, he has never hidden it, like his love for Anderlecht where he would like to end his career," Pastorello told La Repubblica.

"But we cannot think about negotiations. Chelsea are in takeover discussions, we do not know the new owners, let alone if we can open talks with Inter or Milan. We have to wait.

"For the cost of the transfer, no one could have expected such a situation. I do not discuss the tactical choices, but it is obvious that there was a problem. The numbers, however, must be considered – he is still the team's best scorer, with less playing time compared to his team-mates.

"The situation must be carefully assessed, now there is Champions League qualification to secure, there is the FA Cup final. Romelu is focused on this, we have not talked about anything else."

Tuchel, speaking ahead of the FA Cup final with Liverpool on Saturday, admitted he did not expect to be involved in the planned talks when asked about Lukaku at a pre-match news conference.

"If he plans to talk with the owner then maybe it's not his plan to talk with me," Tuchel said. "Let's see if he gets a meeting, maybe he can talk.

"It's his right and we will talk to anybody and evaluate the situation of any player including Romelu. I was just [made] aware of it five, 10 minutes ago. That's what it is sometimes in football.

"The attention is so high that sometimes it attracts situations that you don't want to have before big matches. But it's the way it is.

"For me it's not a distraction, and for everyone else who works with the team hopefully it's not too."

Former Liverpool defender Jose Enrique believes Romelu Lukaku could be an "unstoppable" threat in the FA Cup final but questioned the desire of the Chelsea striker.

Lukaku has found some form in the past week, scoring twice in the draw with Wolves and once in the 3-0 win at Leeds United.

However, the flurry followed a 10-game run without a goal in the Premier League for the former Inter and Manchester United striker.

Enrique has not been impressed by Lukaku in the first season of his second spell as a Chelsea player, and expressed amazement at how he handled himself late last year.

That was when Lukaku made clear his unhappiness at Chelsea in an interview with Sky Sport Italia, complaining about his role in Thomas Tuchel's team.

In an interview with Stats Perform, Enrique questioned whether head coach Tuchel had been behind the decision to sign Lukaku last August, or whether it was taken above his head.

"Obviously it was a wrong decision because of what Lukaku did in January," said Enrique.

A laughing Enrique added: "I don't really understand what he's done, to be honest with you.

"Obviously he doesn't like to run, either, another comparison with [Paul] Pogba at [Manchester] United is this kind of profile.

"Ability-wise, I love Lukaku; he has everything. I think he's a top, top world-class player that whenever he wants to have his game he's nearly unstoppable, but he just doesn't want to be there.

"That's why that signing maybe actually doesn't make them get where they want to be. They are not fighting for anything except the FA Cup now."

Enrique was speaking before Lukaku's sudden burst of form, yet a return of just eight goals in this Premier League campaign has fallen well short of expectations for the Belgium striker.

Saturday's Wembley clash is a repeat of the EFL Cup final that Liverpool won 11-10 on penalties in February when Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga missed from the spot.

It also comes 10 years after Liverpool were beaten 2-1 by Chelsea in the FA Cup final, with Enrique on the beaten side that day.

He still believes Liverpool were unfairly denied a second goal on that day, when Andy Carroll's header, touched onto the crossbar by Petr Cech, went close to crossing the line.

Television evidence was inconclusive, but Enrique believes modern-day technology would have given Liverpool an equaliser.

"I hope Liverpool get their revenge because I lost it 10 years ago against them," Enrique said. "I believe we should have got a goal with the head from Andy Carroll. In the modern game it would have been a goal in my opinion."

Looking ahead to the rematch, Enrique, who retired due to a knee injury almost five years ago, said Liverpool cannot afford to let their standards dip.

"If Liverpool perform as they have been doing, I believe Liverpool are the favourites if you ask anybody," he said. "But being the favourites doesn't mean you're going to win it. They need to be careful because it's one game and you can have a bad game and you lose it."

Mason Mount revealed Chelsea's dressing room response to a blip in form following Wednesday's 3-0 win at Leeds United.

Coming off three games in the Premier League without a win, dropping points to Manchester United, Everton and Wolves, Chelsea responded strongly and got off to a fast start.

Mount was among the scorers for the Blues, getting on the scoresheet in only the fourth minute, before Christian Pulisic and Romelu Lukaku added second-half goals against the 10-man hosts.

The 23-year-old divulged how a strong start at Elland Road was imperative following an honest dissection of recent performances, coming into Saturday's FA Cup final against Liverpool.

“We spoke about how big this week was at the beginning – it didn't start well obviously last Saturday,” Mount told Sky Sports.

“We needed a bounce back. We had a few days to get together and speak within the group, some truths that needed to be said and we got that out of our system.

“This was a game where we could get going, we know what’s coming up next. It’s a massive, massive game and this is a good step towards that."

Mount had only scored in two Premier League matches in 2022 coming into Wednesday's win, with one against Norwich in March and a brace at Southampton in April.

The England international also revealed how he reveled in the famously hostile atmosphere at Elland Road, asserting how his early goal allowed the collective to breathe against the relegation-threatened home side.

"It was a fun one," he said. "I do love playing here, it's obviously a stadium with a lot of history. The fans are brilliant, they don't like us too much so it was a good atmosphere. As soon as we got the goal we kind of quietened the stadium down, and then we could play our stuff.

"I was reading the program before the game and it said, 'Make this stadium as hard to play in as possible,' or something like that. So when you're coming here you know it's going to be tough.

"It was a massive game for both teams. It wasn't just them it was us as well. We needed a win after a few poor results, so it was a bounce-back game tonight, and then to Liverpool to Saturday."

Conor Coady scored with almost the last touch of the game as Wolves fought back to draw 2-2 with Chelsea on the day a £4.25billion sale of the Blues was agreed.

Todd Boehly, who leads the consortium that will complete a takeover later this month, was in attendance at Stamford Bridge as Romelu Lukaku scored his first Premier League goals since a 1-1 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion on December 29 to put the hosts 2-0 up before the hour mark.

Substitute Trinaco set up a dramatic finale, though, with a sumptuous goal 11 minutes from full-time.

Coady then popped up in the seventh minute of stoppage time to head home Chiquinho's cross and seal the most unlikely of points for the visitors.

Romelu Lukaku remains a "big player" for Chelsea, according to Thomas Tuchel, and the striker could make a long-awaited Premier League start against Wolves on Saturday.

Lukaku has endured a miserable first season back in England after making a club record £97.5million (€115m) return to Stamford Bridge from Inter last July.

The striker has scored only 12 goals and declared in an interview with Sky Sport Italia in December that he was not happy with his role under Tuchel.

Lukaku has remained out in the cold and has not started a top-flight game since a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace in February.

Belgium's all-time leading scorer has been linked with a return to Inter at the end of the season, but Tuchel says he has a future at Chelsea and may be in the side to take on Wolves at Stamford Bridge.

When asked about Lukaku's future, the Blues boss said: "Yes, I want him to be an important part of the squad.

"He is right now a very important part of the squad and, next season, there is no recruitment [due to sanctions imposed on Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich] and no players are about to leave, because it's simply not possible.

"We signed a big player and he still is a big player. He has trained very well and maybe starts tomorrow."

Tuchel has stressed the importance of "trust and commitment" as Lukaku endeavours to prove his worth.

"I don't know what needs to happen. He needs to happen. Everyone needs to happen. It's the life of a professional football player at this kind of level," Tuchel added.

"Everybody does their very best and it is the same for every player. Of course, we do the very best to integrate him and it needs to happen. He needs to happen. We need to support him and trust in what we do.

"There is not one thing that we can provide to make this happen. It's about trust, it's about commitment, about the feeling for the game, a bit of luck, game momentum. That's it."

Third-placed Chelsea have work to do in order to secure a Champions League place next season after a 1-0 defeat to Everton and Tuchel expects a response from that loss at Goodison Park. 

He said: "We need another reaction. That's where we are, we had a week to prepare, which was nice but not nice, because we prefer to play [in the] Champions League.

"But it was nice to have the team, to have influence in training to set the focus on things we want to improve. We want to meet our standards and we demand a lot from ourselves.

"I think there are a lot of reasons why it is sometimes normal to drop in intensity and to drop in the level of effort, but as we are an elite sports team and sports club competing on a very, very high level of this sport, there is not much room for normal behaviour.

"We want elite behaviour and this includes me. We want to step up and show another reaction and show that we can play better, we can have more impact in the matches and start from there on tomorrow."

Midfield duo N'Golo Kante and Jorginho will miss the clash with Wolves due to injury.

Barcelona's financial volatility has necessitated a cut of overall wage spend, and Philippe Coutinho has long been viewed as dispensable.

Since his big-money signing from Liverpool, the incompatibility the Brazil international has represented has only been reinforced with loan spells at Bayern Munich and Aston Villa.

However, in need of funds, the Blaugrana have reportedly set the Birmingham club a timeframe for confirming his permanent signing.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA GIVE ASTON VILLA COUTINHO ULTIMATUM

Barcelona have given Aston Villa until the end of the month to confirm whether they will sign Coutinho on a permanent deal, Sport is reporting.

The cash-strapped Catalan giants loaned Coutinho to Villa in January with a €40million (£33.7m) purchase option, but Villa have now been given until the end of May to finalise the deal.

Barcelona have reportedly insisted that the finances be resolved by the end of June, as it would help balance their accounts for the season. 

The 29-year-old has played erratically despite four goals and three assists in 14 appearances, not directly contributing to a league goal since early March against Leeds.

ROUND-UP

- Romelu Lukaku has no intention of joining Milan or Newcastle United despite frustration over a lack of opportunities, according to the Evening Standard.

- Chelsea want to sign 20-year-old Croatian defender Josko Gvardiol from RB Leipzig, Goal reports.

- Football Insider reports Inter Milan are looking to sell Stefan de Vrij, with Tottenham and Aston Villa among the clubs interested.

- Lazio are willing to lower their asking price for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to around €80million, per Calciomercato.

New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has Benfica striker Darwin Nunez at the top of his shopping list in the upcoming transfer window.

The Uruguayan striker is in the midst of a breakout season in both Portugal and Europe, scoring 25 goals in 24 Primeira Liga fixtures, and a Benfica-record six Champions League goals in 10 appearances.

Darwin finished his Champions League campaign by scoring a goal in three consecutive games, including in back-to-back fixtures against Liverpool.

 

TOP STORY – RED DEVILS MAKE DARWIN NUMBER-ONE TARGET

Fichajes and Calcio In Pillole reporter Ekrem Konur claims United have made Darwin their priority target, stating he is "at the top of Erik ten Hag's short transfer list" and they are "considering paying" his release clause.

ESPN has also said United are "leading the chase" for the striker though they face competition from Arsenal, and reported along with The Sun that the 22-year-old's release clause is in the region of €150million.

As well as Darwin, Napoli's Victor Osimhen and Juventus' Paulo Dybala, who will be a free agent, are also serious targets management would like to bring to Old Trafford.

ROUND-UP

– Marca is reporting that Barcelona will turn to Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku as their "plan C" after failing to land Erling Haaland or Robert Lewandowski.

– According to The Express, Arsenal are willing to listen to offers of £25m for Nicolas Pepe after signing him for a club-record £72m in 2019. West Ham are said to be one of the Premier League teams interested.

– Fabrizio Romano reports that Manchester City are focused on extending Phil Foden's contract until 2027.

– Leeds United midfielder and England international Kalvin Phillips will change his agent as he looks to secure a move away from the club, with the Manchester Evening News reporting that United will be in the box seat.

– Todofichajes is claiming that Arsenal have agreed a £50m deal for City striker Gabriel Jesus.

Paris Saint-Germain secured a record-equalling 10th Ligue 1 title with a 1-1 draw at home to Lens on Saturday, but that may not be enough to keep Mauricio Pochettino in a job.

The Argentine may not be heading for Old Trafford after Manchester United confirmed the appointment of Erik ten Hag last week, but he could still be going out the exit door after a demoralising campaign.

With PSG crashing out of the Champions League in calamitous fashion to Real Madrid in March, reports have suggested Pochettino could be replaced by the boss of his former club Tottenham, Antonio Conte.

With Conte overseeing an improvement in Spurs' fortunes since taking the job and possessing experience of managing big egos at former clubs Juventus, Chelsea, and Inter, could the Italian be the man to get the best out of the star-studded Parisians?

Here, Stats Perform uses Opta-powered data to compare the managerial duo.

Pochettino in Paris: Domestic dominance remains, but so does European fragility 

Many saw the decision to appoint Pochettino as prudent after he made 70 appearances in a two-year playing spell in Paris, before his relationship with compatriot Lionel Messi aided the legendary forward's arrival.

It has not, however, been plain sailing for the former Tottenham boss. PSG beat Monaco to lift the Coupe de France last May but missed out on the league title to surprise package Lille last season.

Lille led PSG by a point when Pochettino arrived and pipped the Parisians to the title by that margin as Pochettino became just the second PSG boss (after Unai Emery) to fail to win the Ligue 1 title since 2012.

While PSG rebounded to win the league in dominant fashion this term, moving level with Saint-Etienne as the most successful club in Ligue 1 history, their 34 matches required to secure the title is the most they have needed since 2014-15, when they wrapped up top spot on matchday 37.

The team's reliance on Kylian Mbappe, who has contributed to 36 of the team's 76 league goals this term (22 goals, 14 assists), could also prove a huge issue next term with the 22-year-old heavily linked with a move to Madrid at the end of his contract in June.

Although the star trio of Messi, Neymar, and Mbappe have recorded 37 goals and 32 assists in the league between them this term, they could not inspire Champions League success.

If Pochettino is to depart, March's humiliating 3-2 aggregate loss to a Karim Benzema-inspired Madrid will be remembered as the decisive moment of his time in Paris.

Having beaten the Spanish giants 1-0 at home, PSG have now been eliminated in four of their nine Champions League knockout ties when winning the first leg.

Fixing their fragility on the big occasions will be their foremost aim ahead of next season, which is why the appointment of a manager with one of Europe's most impressive track records has been speculated.

The case for Conte: Title wins and handling big names

Having won five league titles (four in Serie A, one in the Premier League), Conte is always mentioned when a vacancy at an elite European club comes around.

With current club Tottenham battling to ensure Champions League qualification for next season, however, could Conte be tempted to follow in Pochettino's footsteps if he departs PSG?

Conte has overseen a dramatic improvement since taking the Spurs job; before falling to a 1-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion and drawing 0-0 with Brentford, Spurs had plundered 25 goals in their previous seven league games, having scored just nine in 10 league matches under predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo earlier this season.

Star duo Harry Kane and Son Heung-min have also been rejuvenated by Conte's arrival, breaking Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba's record of 36 direct Premier League goal combinations in February.

Conte's previous role at Italian giants Inter, however, might prove more relevant to what he could expect at PSG: the Italian excelled under huge expectations to deliver their first Scudetto in over a decade last season, ending a nine-year period of Juventus dominance he began by leading the Bianconeri to an unbeaten season in 2011-12.

Like Kane and Son, Romelu Lukaku – who recorded 24 goals and 11 assists in Serie A last season – profited from a direct style that saw Inter net a remarkable 89 league goals in their title-winning campaign, and has struggled to replicate that form since following Conte out of San Siro.

As well as his title wins, Conte's work with Lukaku, Kane, Son, and other big names certainly suggests he could have what it takes to manage the sizeable egos of PSG's attacking stars if he makes the move.

However, with Conte failing to progress beyond the Champions League last-eight in his career, the Italian would need to improve his European record in order to satisfy the ambitions of continental glory.

Manchester United are preparing for a complete overhaul of the playing group in the upcoming transfer window as incoming manager Erik ten Hag begins to build things his way.

Ten Hag, who is arriving from Ajax, has reportedly already seen enough of a number of regular contributors at United, and they will make way for players he believes can get the club back to their former glory.

Forward, midfielders and defenders are all on the chopping block, with very few positions expected to be safe heading into 2022-23.

 

TOP STORY – TEN HAG TO SWING THE AXE AT UNITED

The Sun is reporting United "could sell" Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Alex Telles at the next opportunity.

Meanwhile, Sky Sports claims United's needs include a new centre-back, two central midfielders, a winger and a striker in what could shape up as a complete rebuild.

One player who will reportedly get a chance to prove his worth at Old Trafford once he returns from loan is Donny van de Beek, who played for Ten Hag at Ajax.

West Ham's Declan Rice is also high on the Dutchman's wishlist, per The Guardian, while the Telegraph claims Benfica striker Darwin Nunez is a key target.

 

ROUND-UP

– Sky Sports Germany is reporting RB Leipzig have no interest in parting ways with Christopher Nkunku next season, despite interest from United and Arsenal.

– According to Goal, Milan are keen to sign Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku, who spent two seasons at Inter before rejoining Chelsea this season.

Real Madrid are monitoring Newcastle United midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, per AS.

Manchester City and Newcastle United are both interested in 18-year-old Rangers academy midfielder Alex Lowry, according to Football Insider.

– Todofichajes reports that Christian Eriksen has agreed to return to Tottenham when his contract with Brentford expires at the end of this season.

Romelu Lukaku can take comfort from Timo Werner's return to form and the Belgium star just needs "one spark" to find his confidence again, according to Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel.

Werner has come under regular scrutiny following his £45million (€50m) move to Stamford Bridge from RB Leipzig in June 2020.

The Germany international scored six goals in 35 appearances in his debut Premier League campaign and has found the net on just three occasions in the top flight this season.

However, two of those strikes came in the 6-0 rout of Southampton in his last league game, as many goals as he had managed in his previous 27 appearances in the Premier League. Werner also scored at Real Madrid in the Champions League and was influential in the FA Cup semi-final win over Crystal Palace.

Lukaku has endured similar struggles since his big-money return to Chelsea from Inter at the start of the season, last scoring in the league in December against Brighton and Hove Albion.

The former Manchester United man has been hampered by injuries as well, and although he missed glorious opportunities against Madrid and Palace on his return, Tuchel believes he will soon find his form.

"I don't think he needs inspiration as such, but he needs that one moment, that one spark," Tuchel said on Tuesday when asked if Lukaku could learn from Werner.

"He maybe would've been a natural starter against Crystal Palace given the minutes Kai [Havertz] has played and the matches recently, but after a period of injury he lacked the fitness for matches.

"I don't point the finger at him, it's just a fact.

"Compare the difference in Brentford and Southampton, and the two legs against Real Madrid, you see the effort we put into become a winning team and this is what we need.

"Romelu should've had a goal against Real Madrid and Crystal Palace, but if he plays we need all that he has."

Reece James is another who has suffered with injury problems throughout the campaign, but he has shown encouraging form in recent weeks.

Tuchel acknowledged the brilliance of the England international, even if his adaptability causes many a selection headache whether to play him as a right wing-back or third centre-back.

"I think the back three is a little less demanding physically in terms of the wing-back position given he comes from a long injury," the German added on James.

"It is a bit of an advantage to have him in the back three because it is less demanding physically. He can play both positions brilliantly and we can only pick him once, so we have to decide."

Meanwhile, Tuchel expressed his gratitude to the work of Jorginho, who started against Palace on Sunday after being rested for two league games with Southampton and Brentford.

"He sacrificed for the team and I think you see it now," he said of the Italy midfielder. 

"There are so many demands, and after a big success, like winning the Euros, he felt the pressure. This is normal and sometimes after big success it is difficult to keep on going and going.

"He put the responsibility on his shoulders and always does. That is why I love him. We see we overused him and I feel we see the consequences of that. He is not at his freshest moment at the minute."

Lautaro Martinez was very close to joining Barcelona from Inter Milan two years ago.

The Blaugrana and the Argentina international had reached a personal agreement, but the financial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic scuppered any possibility for the former to make any transfer happen.

As ever, though, circumstances in football change and according to reports, they have changed in a way that would allow Barca to finally get the Martinez deal over the line.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA IN FRAME FOR LAUTARO

Barcelona are back in the running to sign Inter's Lautaro Martinez, according to reports from Sport.

The 24-year-old is increasingly likely to leave the reigning Serie A champions, but it appears the club would be willing to lower their asking price in exchange for players as part of a package deal.

Inter have shown interest in Miralem Pjanic and Memphis Depay, two players who appear to be surplus to requirements in a rebuild under Xavi at the Catalan giants.

Martinez, who has provided 15 goals and three assists in 28 league appearances this season, is seen as a more affordable alternative to Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski.

 

ROUND-UP

– Liverpool are eyeing Aberdeen right-back Calvin Ramsey to provide depth for Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Sun reports.

Paris Saint-Germain are ready to part ways with Mauricio Pochettino in order to hire Zinedine Zidane as their head coach, per Le Parisien.

– Corriere dello Sport is reporting Roma would consider an offer of €60million (£49.6m) for highly-rated 22-year-old Nicolo Zaniolo, as interest from Serie A and Premier League clubs looms.

– Juventus are prepared to offer for Chelsea's Jorginho, with the Turin giants seeking to bolster their midfield next season, according to Tuttosport.

– Chelsea are willing to let 28-year-old striker Romelu Lukaku go with Inter and PSG interested, per 90Min.

Romelu Lukaku should look at Timo Werner for inspiration if he plays any part in Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace on Sunday, according to Blues boss Thomas Tuchel.

Werner has endured a largely difficult time at Stamford Bridge since arriving from RB Leipzig in June 2020, but he has shone in the past week.

He followed up a brace in the 6-0 Premier League win over Southampton last weekend with another goal in the Champions League quarter-final second-leg win at Real Madrid in midweek.

Like Werner, Lukaku has had difficulties since joining the club from Inter ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

He has scored just five goals and registered zero assists in his 12 Premier League starts, while he has created only 16 opportunities and converted 17.2 per cent of his 29 shots, just 11 of which have been on target.

Lukaku's 12 goals in all competitions only marginally exceeds his expected goals (xG) of 11.8, however, showing he is at least scoring at a rate that reflects the quality of chances that have come his way.

But the fact his xG is not higher suggests a lack of cohesion between Lukaku and his team-mates.

The Belgium international has missed Chelsea's last two games through injury, although he returned to training this week and is expected to play some part in Sunday's last-four clash at Wembley.

 

Asked if the 28-year-old needs to emulate Werner if he is selected against Palace, Tuchel told a media conference: "For sure. He had a huge chance against Real Madrid [at home] and things can go so fast.

"Nobody knows what this goal would have done for us if he had taken his chance with the late header in the first leg.

"It is exactly what he needs to do. Wait, be patient, work hard and put the team first, be ready to help the team, because as a striker you can help within seconds.

"Especially for strikers, things can be turned around in minutes, in moments. Whole careers can be upside down and in any direction but always as a striker you can have a chance to put things into your favour, as a substitute or if you have the chance to perform from the beginning."

Chelsea have won each of their last nine fixtures with Palace, all coming in the Premier League.

In the club's history, they have enjoyed five separate instances of 10 or more successive wins against an opponent, most recently a run of 11 versus Brighton and Hove Albion between 1967 and 2019.

Thomas Tuchel is relieved Chelsea have the opportunity to quickly get back on track in their FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace, for which Romelu Lukaku may be available.

A huge week for Chelsea has been a difficult one so far, as their outstanding performance away to Real Madrid in a Champions League quarter-final was not enough to advance.

Trailing 3-1 from the home leg, the defending European champions were heading through when Timo Werner put them three up, only for Madrid to respond with goals from Rodrygo in normal time and Karim Benzema in extra time.

With Chelsea relatively secure in third place in the Premier League, their main focus now is on the FA Cup.

The Blues at least came through the Madrid second leg unscathed, with Tuchel's only update before the Palace game on the potential return of record signing Lukaku.

"Romelu was back in training yesterday [Thursday]. Let's see if he has any reaction or not," Tuchel told a pre-match news conference. "Then everybody should be okay."

The Chelsea coach will be looking to preserve his fine semi-final record, having won 11 and drawn one of his 12 previous such matches.

And Tuchel believes Chelsea will benefit from being thrust straight into another big match – this their first FA Cup tie against London rivals Palace since 1975-76, with the two teams each winning two of the four prior meetings.

"I think we are all a bit in between," Tuchel said. "Confidence wise, I think it's a huge boost, but still it's a disappointment to go out of the Champions League in the quarter-final.

"It's not a big drama, not in this kind of way, but still it's a big disappointment, because we feel like we could be one of the four teams in the semi-final.

"It's a weird feeling, because we had a huge task to go to Madrid, needing to win with a minimum of two goals to make it to extra time. We were three goals ahead.

"In a knockout game in the Bernabeu, it's a fantastic performance and stays like this. But it tastes bitter, because we're out of the Champions League.

"In both legs, we did too many individual mistakes, too many mistakes that were punished by individual quality.

"It's still a little bit in between for me, but we bounced back from the two results and the two performances against Brentford and Madrid at home.

"We won both games after that and there's a big knockout game coming at Wembley, which is, in my opinion, a good thing. There's a huge reward coming with it, so it's not a normal game in the Premier League to collect points, but it's straight away another knockout match."

Chelsea have plenty of experience of matches of this magnitude, too. Having lost the EFL Cup final to Liverpool earlier this season, they are playing multiple games at Wembley in a sixth consecutive campaign, with this their 40th appearance at the national stadium when used as a neutral venue.

Indeed, only Arsenal and Manchester United (both 30) have more FA Cup semi-final appearances than Chelsea (26).

The Blues have lost their past two FA Cup London derbies, although both were to Arsenal. Their past six FA Cup defeats to teams from the capital were against Arsenal.

Karim Benzema's brilliance was the difference as Real Madrid stormed into a 3-1 lead over Chelsea last week.

The 34-year-old, as evergreen as they come, was at his sublime best once again with a sensational hat-trick at Stamford Bridge to put Madrid on the verge of reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

It followed on from his three goals in that remarkable comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16 and it would not be unreasonable to expect Benzema to hit another hat-trick on Tuesday when Thomas Tuchel's reigning European champions visit the Santiago Bernabeu, such is the France international's prolific form.

"To say that we are dependent on Benzema is the truth, there is no need to hide it," said Carlo Ancelotti in Monday's news conference previewing the second leg.

"I am very happy to be dependent on Benzema."

While Benzema thrives with that dependence on his shoulders, Chelsea visit the Spanish capital without the striker they hoped would take them to the next level. It is safe to say that Romelu Lukaku's return to Stamford Bridge has not gone to plan.

 

Having rediscovered his best form over two seasons with Inter, driving the Nerazzurri to their first Serie A title in over a decade, Lukaku has come closer to resembling the much-maligned version of himself that struggled at Manchester United.

Lukaku will be absent through injury for what is his team's biggest game of the season, a rather fitting summary of how his second spell at Chelsea has played out so far.

All going wrong for Rom

It seemed the perfect match. Lukaku was fantastic for Inter, providing not only goals but also adding creativity to his game as he formed a supreme partnership with Lautaro Martinez.

Lukaku directly contributed to 35 goals in Serie A alone last season, converting 25 per cent of his 96 shots and creating 52 chances for team-mates, with 10 of those being big chances - defined by Opta as an opportunity from which a player would reasonably be expected to score.

The Belgian averaged a goal every 120 minutes and converted 20 of the 39 big chances that came his way, as Antonio Conte helped get Lukaku back to his best.

 

But matters could hardly be more different at Chelsea.

Lukaku has hinted that Tuchel's style does not suit his preferred way of playing, though his ability to drop deep and link the play at Inter seemed to have put the 28-year-old in good stead to do the same with the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic in west London.

The drop-off has been significant – just 12 Premier League starts, five goals and zero assists, while he has created only 16 opportunities and converted 17.2 per cent of his 29 shots, just 11 of which have been on target.

Lukaku's 12 goals in all competitions do slightly exceed his expected goals (xG) of 11.8, showing he is at least scoring at a rate that reflects the quality of chances that have come his way, though he headed wide from Chelsea's best opportunity of the first leg (0.29 xG).

 

Chelsea won the Champions League without a recognised number nine, given Tammy Abraham's failure to cement a place under Tuchel and Werner's hit-and-miss form, which has continued into this campaign.

Indeed, Havertz netted the winner in Porto against Manchester City last May and in recent weeks has been the player Tuchel has utilised to lead Chelsea's line, even with Lukaku fit. It was the Germany forward who scored for the Blues against Madrid last week and he seems set to continue up front.

All going right for Benzema

In contrast, Benzema is at the very top of his game. His hat-trick at the Bridge took him to 37 goals for the season. That tally far exceeds his xG (28.3), illustrating just how excellent his finishing has been.

That supreme ability was on show in all its glory in the first leg. His opener was a quite wonderful header that he somehow kept down and floated beyond Edouard Mendy - Opta's xG model suggests there was just an eight per cent chance of that opportunity resulting in a goal.

Benzema's second, another header under three minutes later, was equally impressive, while his third came as a result of his aggression in the press, forcing a mistake that gave him a simple finish into an empty net.

Similar to Lukaku in Serie A last season, Benzema is converting roughly a quarter of his attempts across all competitions, and he has already crafted 66 chances for others and contributed 13 assists. 

Of strikers in Europe's top five leagues, only Robert Lewandowski has scored more goals than the Frenchman, who has as many assists as Lionel Messi and scores every 84 minutes.

 

Benzema is the heartbeat of a Madrid side pushing for a double, crucial to everything Los Blancos do in attack, dropping into midfield to aid the build-up as well as being in the right place to finish chances.

Lukaku, meanwhile, is on the periphery at Chelsea and though the £97.5million (€115m) outlay may yet prove worthwhile, he is not going to be able to stand up and be counted when his side might just need him the most.

That, perhaps, is a sign it was simply never meant to be for Lukaku at Chelsea after all.

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