Thomas Tuchel can understand why questions are being asked about Romelu Lukaku's disappointing form is himself unsure why the striker is currently struggling.

The Blues' club-record signing has scored just once in his last five appearances, with that solitary goal coming against non-league Chesterfield in the FA Cup.

Lukaku's struggles, coinciding with his return to the side after being dropped in the wake of a controversial interview, have been laid bare in his recent Premier League outings.

He had 21 touches in last week's 1-0 loss to Manchester City – the fewest of any starting player for either team – and 18 in Tuesday's 1-1 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion.

From his three shots across the two games, the 28-year-old hit the target twice but could not get on the scoresheet, leading to some public criticism from Tuchel in the week.

And ahead of Chelsea's home league meeting with Tottenham on Sunday, Tuchel said it is hard to pinpoint exactly what is going wrong for Lukaku in his second spell at the club.

"Welcome to reality," he said at Friday's pre-match news conference when asked if Lukaku is perhaps unfairly targeted. 

"We are in the spotlight, we are judged, all of us and that's daily business. It's like this. If you are a decisive player, if things go very well, people talk about you.

"If not, the same people talk about you. This is part of the business, like it or not. Nothing more to say."

Tuchel added: "I don't know if I can explain his form. It's very rare in football that you have a situation or a problem with a one-thing solution.

"It's always a mix of a lot of influences. He was already more involved. He is struggling. We have already discussed the reasons.

"But he is not the only one we rely on to win games. There is nothing special to it."

Chelsea enter this weekend's London derby with Tottenham winless in four Premier League matches, leaving them 12 points behind leaders City having played a game more.

However, the Blues have already won three games against Spurs in all competitions this term, including twice in this month's two-legged EFL Cup semi-final.

The last Premier League team to win three games against a single opponent in the same month were Aston Villa against Blackburn Rovers in January 2010.

Tuchel does not believe his side's recent cup success against Antonio Conte's men will act as any sort of psychological advantage on Sunday, however.

"We play now three matches in such a short time which is pretty unusual, uncommon normally," he said.

"That's why I think they know what we do, and we know more or less what they do. It’s again for us to show up in games like this.

"They come from a late victory, that gives them a boost. We come from two wins in the cup.

"We play the match – it's not about having advantages and being philosophical about it. It's about delivering, being in the right mood and attitude to deliver a top performance."

Thomas Tuchel was unimpressed by the performance of Romelu Lukaku after Chelsea lost 1-0 to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

A stunning goal from Kevin De Bruyne sent Pep Guardiola's City 13 points clear of Chelsea in the Premier League table, with the Blues having won just four of their last 12 league games.

Lukaku cut a lone figure for much of Saturday's game, having just 21 touches – the fewest of any starting player for either team – while completing just seven out of 12 passes, and he did not win any of his seven aerial duels.

He also saw a shot saved by City goalkeeper Ederson when through one-on-one at the start of the second half, a chance that Opta measured with an xG (expected goals) score of 0.365, meaning that he would be expected to score at least one in three times from that position.

The £97million signing from Inter recently apologised to the club and the fans after giving an interview in Italy where he appeared to criticise Blues boss Tuchel for not playing to his strengths.

Speaking to BT Sport after the game, Tuchel explained his frustration with the Belgian striker's display, saying: "He had many ball losses without any pressure, many ball losses in very promising circumstances. He had a huge chance.

"We want to serve him, but he is part of the team, and the performance up front, particularly in the first half, we can do much, much better."

Apart from Lukaku, Tuchel was reluctant to fault his team at the post-match news conference despite the defeat, and praised their attitude and commitment in the game, saying to reporters: "I think we lost on individual performance and on one situation today. In terms of attitude, commitment, defensive-wise, I am happy.

"We did not allow too many big chances, kept them to a minimum, and we were aware and active with our defending.

"We had big counter chances, big offensive transition chances we wasted. With the same performance we have won games against Man City, and we could draw this game, and, of course, lose this."

Chelsea managed just four shots and one on target, all of which came in the second half, and Tuchel acknowledged that the European champions did not create enough, only having seven touches in the City box compared to the hosts who had 31 in the Chelsea penalty area.

"We did not have enough chances for the ball wins and the movements we could have had," Tuchel added. "We could have had more chances if we played with better timing, better precision. It's simply like this.

"We had eight or nine transition chances and out of them we did not have a touch in the box. This is what I am critical about. If we miss chances, I am not critical. Everyone wants to score big chances, and we do not get a lot of them in big games.

"We could have had many more chances, that is what I am critical about. The decision-making and timing wasn't at the level we need."

Tuchel was also asked for his reaction to the Premier League's decision to postpone Sunday's north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham after the Gunners made a request on Friday, due to having a number of players out through injury, suspension, COVID-19 or at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The former Borussia Dortmund manager has recently expressed frustration with the league for postponing some games and not others, including rejecting Chelsea's request to cancel their visit to Wolves in December.

"It's much better for me not to answer the question. Much, much better," the German said.

Chelsea already knew the odds were slim. No team that has been clear by at least 10 points at the top of the Premier League after 21 matches has ever failed to lift the trophy.

The Blues travelled to leaders Manchester City on Saturday exactly 10 adrift and desperate to improve on their showing against Pep Guardiola's men from earlier in the season.

But a familiar foe once again brought their downfall as City sealed a 1-0 win that further increases their lead at the summit and probably has them over the horizon in the title race – at least as far as Chelsea are concerned.

Thomas Tuchel spoke with great clarity and assuredness as he addressed the media on Friday, accepting Chelsea were far too negative in their 1-0 defeat to City at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season.

We say "defeat", but in reality it was as close to a 1-0 battering as they come. City tallied three times as many shots as Chelsea (15 to five), and it was a similar story in terms of touches in the opposition's box (34 to 11).

But there was little sign of a major improvement here. Tuchel flailed and flapped like a headless chicken on the touchline, his instructions ultimately powerless against a City side that smothered Chelsea with a high press that just seemed to suffocate them more as the game went on.

Initially, as much as anything, Chelsea just looked confused. Their bravery in playing out from the back was to be commended in some instances, but that mentality seemed to be completely at odds with almost everything else they did.

They would get into the midfield but then launch long balls out wide or to Christian Pulisic in the hole rather than for Romelu Lukaku to run onto. The moves would go nowhere.

 

There was no period of sustained pressure from Chelsea at all in the first half – in fact, they got to the interval without registering a single shot, the first time that's happened in a league game under Tuchel.

Lukaku, bar one early instance where he rolled John Stones before mucking up the final pass, cut a frustrated figure up top. While Chelsea's play in the build-up largely seemed unlikely to get the best out of him, his team-mates might have expected more attempts to run in behind the City defence.

The second half was just a few minutes old when such a situation did present itself, with Lukaku able to do what he's best at: running on to throughballs rather than acting as a target man.

Ederson produced a fine save to block Lukaku's effort, but it was the clearest evidence yet of how Chelsea were likely to hurt City – not that it was necessarily a sign of things to come for the visitors.

 

If anything, it served as a jolt for City, a reminder that, as good as they are, they weren't going to be able to sleepwalk to a win here.

City allowed Chelsea more of the ball, but Guardiola's men upped the intensity significantly with their pressing – the Blues started to find passing through the midfield rather trickier.

Eight of the nine times City won possession in the final third (Chelsea only did so once in the whole game) came in the second half, which was not only evidence of how they were able to impressively dig deep physically, but also highlighted how a team can take the game to an opponent even without the ball.

Of course, City relied on a moment of pure inspiration, which was somewhat predictably delivered by Kevin De Bruyne, who strode away from N'Golo Kante and saw his gorgeous curling effort find the bottom-right corner from 25 yards.

 

It was his fifth Premier League goal against Chelsea, making his old club his favourite opposition in that regard, and a figure bettered by no other former Blue in the competition.

In the context of the match, it also highlighted the differing fortunes of players with comparable pasts: both De Bruyne and Lukaku joined Chelsea as youngsters and ultimately failed to make an impression.

The midfielder now regularly lights up the Premier League, but his international colleague is back at Stamford Bridge and struggling again, albeit for different reasons.

But the fact of the matter is, Lukaku was brought back to turn Chelsea into title contenders – that now looks impossible thanks to another familiar face.

Manchester City and Chelsea were both in the market for a striker ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Although Chelsea sealed Romelu Lukaku's return – for a club-record fee reported to be £97.5million – City were unable to break Tottenham's resolve and sign Harry Kane.

For a brief time towards the end of August, it seemed Cristiano Ronaldo would be heading to the Etihad Stadium. Yet City again came away empty-handed – Ronaldo, like Lukaku, returning to a former club as he joined rivals Manchester United.

Indeed, City were once linked with Lukaku, with the forward himself claiming he had turned down an approach in 2020. But Pep Guardiola's team have, so far, cast aside any doubts that a lack of an out-and-out striker would cost them dearly.

City looked set to be in a three-way title race earlier in the season, alongside Chelsea and Liverpool. Heading into their second top-flight match of 2022, they are 10 points clear of the Blues and 11 clear of the Reds.

City turned in a statement performance in a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in September and, while rumours swirl of impending approaches for Erling Haaland or Dusan Vlahovic, two of Europe's brightest striking prospects, it will be Guardiola's 4-3-3, false nine system that Thomas Tuchel must look to counter on Saturday.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform assesses how the respective attacks have stacked up this season.

Rom's return

It would be fair to say Lukaku's return to Stamford Bridge has not yet matched what was expected. Having led Inter to their first Serie A title in 11 years, Lukaku re-signed for Chelsea to much fanfare and, undoubtedly, as one of the most fearsome finishers in European football.

Lukaku's second Chelsea debut could hardly have gone better as he opened the scoring against Arsenal after just 15 minutes, putting his strength, pace and positioning prowess on full display.

Yet he has so far failed to hit his stride. His five league goals from 13 appearances ranks him behind Mason Mount and Jorginho (both six) in Chelsea's squad, albeit the latter has netted all of his from the penalty spot.

Lukaku's goal return has come from a total of 22 shots, the fifth-most in Chelsea's squad, at an average of 2.3 per 90 minutes played. However, his rate of scoring every 166 minutes in the league puts him top of Chelsea's squad in that metric.

But that has been another issue with his comeback. Lukaku has featured for just 828 minutes in the league, starting only eight times, with 12 team-mates accumulating more game time.

An injury sustained in a Champions League win over Malmo in October kept him out of action for several weeks and he subsequently contracted COVID-19.

Then, late in December after he scored in successive matches against Aston Villa and Brighton and Hove Albion, Sky Italia released an interview, conducted several weeks previously, in which Lukaku questioned Tuchel's tactics and suggested he could leave Chelsea.

Tuchel reacted strongly, dropping the forward for a pivotal clash with Liverpool on January 2, which finished 2-2. Lukaku apologised and returned to Chelsea's side for the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final against Tottenham.

One of Lukaku's complaints was about how Tuchel has used him so far. 

Last season, playing typically in a 3-5-2 system at Inter, Lukaku averaged three shots, 1.5 attempts on target, 7.3 touches in the opposition box and 1.6 chances created per 90 minutes, across 36 Serie A appearances. But those figures have so far dropped to 2.4 shots, 0.9 attempts on target, 6.4 touches in the opponent's box and 1.5 chances created this term, with the forward deployed as a target man to combine with Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Christian Pulisic and the rest of Chelsea's attack.

It is a role that does not seem to suit Lukaku best, though Tuchel has made it clear who the boss is.

False nines and a flying full-back

Chelsea and City have played 21 league games this season, but Guardiola's team have netted six goals more. They average one every 36 minutes, compared to Chelsea's 43, and have out-shot the Blues 391 to 320.

This is all without a recognised number nine but, as proved by their charge to a third league title in four seasons in 2020-21, City have cracked the code of having any player but a centre-forward lead their line.

Whether it is Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Ilkay Gundogan, the magnificent Bernardo Silva or, occasionally, the man who wears nine, Gabriel Jesus, City have a wealth of stellar options to slot into that role.

Sterling and Silva, who has been in sensational form all season, lead the way with seven goals each. It is a testament to Guardiola's man management that the duo, who might have left the club in 2021, are in such rich form.

Riyad Mahrez – the only City attacker with a consistent position – has netted six. De Bruyne and Foden have added five apiece.

City share their goals around for fun, while three players (Sterling, Silva and Jesus) have had over 100 touches in the opposition box, with Grealish on 99. No Chelsea player has managed more than 76 (Mount). 

De Bruyne's 36 chances created is more than any other player in City or Chelsea's squads, while the Belgian is level with Foden and Gundogan for big chances created (six), with Mount the only Blues player able to match them.

Allowing whichever front five plays for City to flourish is Rodri, who has taken the mantle from Fernandinho at the base of midfield, and creative support comes from the superb Joao Cancelo.

He has provided four league assists from 22 chances created, which ranks him sixth in the competition for defenders, with his four big chances tied for fourth, behind Trent Alexander-Arnold (11), Andrew Robertson and Reece James (five), who is a big injury miss for Chelsea.

It is not just Cancelo's passing and crossing that supports City's attack, however, with the full-back registering fourth in the league, behind three club-mates, for total carries (380) and sixth for carry distance (3,867 metres). Thiago Silva is the sole Chelsea player to have a place in the top 10 for either statistic.

Finely balanced

While City seemingly have the edge heading into Saturday's contest, Tuchel found a way to thwart Guardiola's system last season.

City countered this with their aggressive approach at Stamford Bridge but only four months previously, Guardiola's men fell short in their first Champions League final – Havertz scoring the winner in a match that perhaps forced City to make their move for Kane.

Tuchel won all three of his encounters with City in 2020-21, though those matches are the only times he has beaten Guardiola, who won three of their five Bundesliga meetings.

Chelsea went toe-to-toe with Liverpool and came out with a point earlier this month, though if Chelsea are to rope City back in, they need their investment in Lukaku to pay off.

Should City's death by a thousand cuts prevail, Chelsea's title challenge might well and truly have bitten the dust.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel says Romelu Lukaku needs time to adapt to the physical demands of the Premier League, but insists he will not attempt to reinvent the striker.

The Belgium international returned to Stamford Bridge in a club-record transfer from reigning Serie A champions Inter in August.

However, the 28-year-old is yet to truly fire on all cylinders during his second spell with the Blues, amassing eight goals from 20 appearances in all competitions.

Lukaku was recently dropped by Tuchel following comments made in the Italian media, stating he was "not very happy with the situation" he finds himself in, while expressing a desire to return to the Nerazzurri one day.

However, the striker subsequently apologised to his manager and the fans, and was restored to the starting line-up for last week's EFL Cup semi-final first-leg win over Tottenham.

And Tuchel is confident it is only a matter of time until everything clicks into place for his number nine.

"Romelu had a huge physical impact in the game against Tottenham," he said. "Maybe he wasn't so spectacularly involved, but he was involved in playing a crucial part with his physical qualities.

"Once he adapts to the physical style of the league, there is no doubt he will have a huge impact. 

"We will not reinvent his style or reinvent the player. He can simply be Romelu, and then we are all fine, and then he will score because this is what he always does."

During his pre-match press conference ahead of Wednesday’s second leg against Spurs, it was suggested that Timo Werner could provide a link for Lukaku similar to Lautaro Martinez at Inter last season.

Responding to the suggestion, Tuchel said: "He could be, but I see no reason that we should copy Inter.

"We have our style and enough possibilities. We can play with two strikers; we can play 3-5-2; we have the possibility to play three strikers.

"We played a 4-4-2 against Tottenham in the first leg. I don't mean it in a harsh way; the players need to show they are good enough to start. 

"We are not inventing new stuff to make players better or happier. They have all it takes. It’s on them to show it."

Romelu Lukaku cast his Chelsea future in doubt with a recent interview – and the unsettled striker may now be offered a route out of Stamford Bridge by Paris Saint-Germain.

The 28-year-old revealed his regret at leaving Inter for Chelsea and questioned boss Thomas Tuchel's tactics, leading to him being dropped for the 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

Lukaku has returned for the Blues' two matches since, but doubts remain over whether he will still be a Chelsea player come the start of next season.

TOP STORY – LUKAKU LINED UP AS MBAPPE REPLACEMENT?

PSG look certain to lose Kylian Mbappe at the end of the campaign as the Real Madrid target fast approaches the end of his contract at the Parc des Princes.

The Ligue 1 giants are on the lookout for possible replacements and, according to El Nacional, Lukaku is one of those being considered by the club's wealthy backers.

The report suggests PSG are willing to pay €90million (£75.1m) to persuade Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to part ways with the club's all-time record signing.

Lukaku, who apologised for giving the explosive interview in December, has scored eight goals in 20 appearances since returning to west London five months ago.

ROUND-UP

– Tottenham have decided to sell Steven Bergwijn this month amid interest from several clubs, according to Fabrizio Romano. Ajax are said to be among the sides to have already made an offer for the Netherlands international.

– Anthony Martial wants to leave Manchester United and has been touted as a possible target for Barcelona. But Spanish outlet Sport claims that, while Barca are eager to strengthen in the final third, Martial is not on their radar in this window.

– Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is wanted by a number of Europe's heavyweight clubs. According to Foot Mercato, PSG are prepared to pay more than the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, but the latter remains the Germany international's preferred choice.

– A rumoured target for Chelsea and Bayern, Sergino Dest's Barcelona future may become clearer in the coming days. El Nacional claims the defender's representatives are set to hold talks with the Catalan giants.

– After being jeered off the pitch by his own supporters in Tottenham's 3-1 FA Cup win over Morecambe on Sunday, The Athletic reports that club-record signing Tanguy Ndombele is hopeful of ending his tumultuous spell in north London this month.

– The Athletic also reports Aston Villa are now the favourites to sign Everton full-back Lucas Digne, despite previous interest from Chelsea. Newcastle United have also been linked, but Digne is apparently not considering a move to the relegation-threatened side.

Chelsea eased through to the FA Cup fourth round after a commanding 5-1 victory over National League side Chesterfield.

Goals inside the opening 20 minutes from Timo Werner, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Romelu Lukaku put Thomas Tuchel's side well in control at Stamford Bridge.

Andreas Christensen and Hakim Ziyech were also on target as the Blues scored five or more goals in a single game for the second time this season.

However, Chesterfield did grab a consolation in their first third-round appearance for seven years, as Akwasi Asante struck 10 minutes from time.

FA Cup finalists in four of the previous five seasons, Chelsea took the lead after just six minutes. Ziyech's shot ricocheted into the path of Werner, who found the empty net from close range.

Hudson-Odoi doubled the lead spectacularly. Receiving the ball on the left, the winger cut inside before bending a wonderful 25-yard effort into the far corner.

Lukaku made it 3-0 inside 20 minutes, the unmarked Belgium international turning home Lewis Hall's low cross after brilliant persistence by the youngster.

Hall was involved again just before half-time. His shot was parried to Christensen, who headed past Scott Loach for only the second goal of his Chelsea career.

Ziyech added a fifth from the penalty spot nine minutes after the break; smashing home after Calvin Miller brought down Christian Pulisic.

But the visitors did grab a consolation in their first FA Cup tie against Premier League opposition since facing Middlesbrough in the 1996-97 semi-finals, as Asante tapped into an open goal.

Thomas Tuchel praised the performance of the returning Romelu Lukaku after Chelsea's EFL Cup win over Tottenham.

The Blues took a huge step towards reaching the final after claiming a 2-0 victory in the first leg of the last-four tie at Stamford Bridge.

Lukaku was restored to the starting line-up after he was left out of the squad for Sunday's Premier League clash with Liverpool due to comments made in the Italian media.

The former Inter striker was quoted as saying he was "not very happy with the situation" he finds himself in, while expressing a desire to return to the Nerazzurri one day.

However, the Belgium international subsequently apologised to Tuchel, as well as the fans on the club's official website.

He played the full 90 minutes against Spurs – recording game-high tallies of three shots on goal and two on target – and the head coach was pleased with his contribution under difficult circumstances.

 

Asked what he made of Lukaku's performance, he told Sky Sports: "Good, absolutely happy. I was pretty sure he was not affected. 

"I see him on a daily basis. Even the last days, he seemed relaxed, fine with the situation and mentally moved on. 

"Romelu can handle pressure and adversity. It was a good performance; he contributed a lot to our defensive setup and had chances."

Tuchel also praised the focus and commitment of his players, although he believes they could have increased their margin of victory.

"It seems like a deserved win, an excellent result because it reflects the game," he added. "We could have scored more, but it is hard to score against Tottenham.

"We did create a lot – some huge chances – it could have been possible to score more.

"We never lost the focus; [we] never lost the commitment."

Chelsea put one foot in the EFL Cup final thanks to a comfortable 2-0 victory over Tottenham in Wednesday's semi-final first leg on a chastening return to Stamford Bridge for Antonio Conte.

Thomas Tuchel, seemingly eager to put recent indiscretions to one side after an apology, reinstated Romelu Lukaku to his starting XI, though Chelsea's victory arguably said more about Spurs' defence than the hosts' attack.

The Blues were ahead inside five minutes as Kai Havertz punished a Japhet Tanganga error at the back, and a comical Ben Davies own goal had Chelsea cruising at the interval.

Spurs improved somewhat in the second 45 minutes but were fortunate not to concede more goals, with Timo Werner spurning a couple of excellent opportunities, perhaps giving Conte's men a lifeline for the return leg.

Lukaku should have made a swift impact when released into the box in the first minute, only to bizarrely opt for a cut-back that went to no one.

Spurs gifted them another chance soon after, though, and Chelsea took it – Marcos Alonso cut out Tanganga's dreadful pass and fed Havertz, who found the net despite Davinson Sanchez's best efforts.

The dominant home side made it 2-0 just past the half-hour mark, Tanganga's unchallenged headed clearance bouncing back off Davies and going in.

Spurs, who introduced Tanguy Ndombele at half-time, were brighter early in the second period, with Harry Kane testing Kepa Arrizabalaga via a 20-yard free-kick.

Still, the best chances went the way of Chelsea and Werner, who first shot agonisingly wide and then saw Hugo Lloris just about reach his lobbed effort after an exquisite pass from Hakim Ziyech.

A late Ndombele effort from Bryan Gil's pull-back was then well saved by Kepa as the Blues kept their clean sheet intact.

What does it mean? Chelsea in control of the tie

The last trophy Spurs won was via this competition in 2008 – on the evidence of this first leg, they will not be ending that drought in next month's final.

Sure, there was undoubtedly an improvement from Spurs in the second half here, but they could not really have gotten any worse – they failed to register a single shot in the first 45 minutes. Even then, Chelsea were still on another level after the break.

Conte has received a lot of praise for the impact he has had on Spurs in just a couple of months at the helm, but this was a reminder of how far they still have to go.

Fruitful from the flanks

Alonso and Ziyech were both impressive out wide for the Blues. The Spaniard was deployed as a left-back rather than wing-back but still got forward to great effect, making the interception and playing the pass for the first goal – that was one of three key passes. The only player to register more (four) was Ziyech on the right, whose use of the ball was often excellent in the final third.

You've been Tangangoed!

This was a day to forget for Tanganga. It was his poor pass to Emerson Royal that was intercepted in the build-up to the first goal, and then his header went in off Davies for the second when he was under virtually no pressure.

What's next?

These two will resume hostilities next Wednesday in the second leg at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but before that, both teams are in FA Cup action. Chelsea host Chesterfield on Saturday, while Spurs welcome Morecambe to north London the following day.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has revealed that N'Golo Kante and Thiago Silva have tested positive for COVID-19.

The pair were left out of Chelsea's starting line-up for Wednesday's EFL Cup semi-final first leg against Tottenham and will now serve a period of self-isolation.

Kante has featured in 17 of the Blues' 31 matches this season, while Silva – who signed a one-year contract extension on Monday – has been used 22 times.

It is the second time in a little over three months that France international Kante has tested positive for coronavirus.

Asked about the duo's absence from the side to face Tottenham, Tuchel told Sky Sports: "Unfortunately, Thiago and N'Golo have tested positive.

"It's huge for us because they are two huge players. We had the last information today in the morning, so it is quite challenging, but we will push.

"The guys who are here have our trust and our belief.

"We will push things to the maximum. The situation hasn't changed since some weeks ago, it's not the moment to repeat it, from here we are looking for solutions. 

"I have trust in the guys who play and hopefully we put in a strong performance."

As well as facing Tottenham over two legs, Chelsea also take on Chesterfield in the FA Cup and face Manchester City in the Premier League over the next 10 days.

Romelu Lukaku started the tie at Stamford Bridge, three days on from being left out of Chelsea's squad to face Liverpool after giving a controversial interview.

The striker made a public apology on Tuesday and was back involved against Spurs, with the Blues eyeing a first-leg advantage to take into next week's reverse fixture.

Chelsea have progressed from five of their last seven EFL Cup semi-final ties, failing only in 2012-13 (v Swansea City) and 2017-18 (v Arsenal) in that run.

Since winning three games in a row against Chelsea between 2018 and 2019, Tottenham were winless in their last eight against the Blues in all competitions prior to Wednesday's game.

If Thomas Tuchel is after any advice on how to deal with the Romelu Lukaku issue, the Chelsea head coach could do worse than to have a brief word with the man he will come face-to-face with on Wednesday.

Under now-Tottenham boss Antonio Conte across two seasons with Inter, Lukaku enjoyed the best form of his career, scoring and assisting a combined 81 goals in 95 appearances.

Lukaku has not been as prolific since returning to Stamford Bridge in August, finding the net seven times in 18 games, and already his future at Chelsea has been called into question following an explosive interview in the Italian press that was published last week.

The Belgium international was subsequently dropped for Chelsea's crucial clash with Liverpool on Sunday but is in line return for the EFL Cup semi-final first leg with Spurs after holding clear-the-air talks with his manager, meaning a possible reunion with Conte.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how Conte got Lukaku out of the "deep hole" he found himself in at Manchester United, as the striker himself put it, and explores how Tuchel can go about getting the most out of Chelsea's all-time record purchase.


ROM AMONG EUROPE'S ELITE

As well as declaring an unhappiness with his role at Chelsea and expressing a desire to return to Inter as part of his 30-minute chat with Sky Sport Italia, Lukaku also opened up on the "hurt" he felt when Conte departed San Siro.

That is no surprise given the Belgian's form between arriving at Inter in August 2019 and departing two years later. 

The 47 Serie A goals scored by Lukaku in 72 games under Conte is his best return under any of the 11 managers he has played for at club level, followed by the 43 netted in 103 Premier League games when working with now-national team coach Roberto Martinez at Everton.

That includes a return of 24 goals in 2020-21 alone, on top of 11 assists, as he became the first player to score 20-plus goals and set up 10 or more in a single Serie A season since Opta started to record such data in 2004-05.

Indeed, only Cristiano Ronaldo (83), Kylian Mbappe (97), Lionel Messi (106) and Robert Lewandowski (121) were directly involved in more goals in all competitions among players from Europe's top five leagues than Lukaku's 81 across the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.

 

FLOPPED IN FAVOURED FORMATION

That impressive form helped Inter end their 11-year wait for Scudetto success last time out, a year on from falling just short in the Europa League with defeat in the final, but Lukaku was not alone in inspiring the Nerazzurri to glory.

Alongside him was Lautaro Martinez, who was very much the perfect foil in Conte's preferred 3-5-2 formation, which the Italian used 31 times in 38 league matches last season.

It is a formation Tuchel has used on only two occasions in the Premier League this term – in September's 1-0 home defeat to Manchester City and the 1-0 victory at Brentford three weeks later. 

Lukaku started both games alongside Timo Werner and Chelsea's tally of five shots against City and five against Brentford are the fewest the Blues have managed in any league game this term – Lukaku responsible for just one of those – as were the four and two chances created respectively.

While City's quality and dominance of the ball must be factored in, Lukaku's minimal involvement against Brentford was surprising – and surely no coincidence.

That west London derby blank came in the midst of a 10-game run without a goal for Lukaku, not helped by niggling injuries and a COVID lay-off, which he has since put an end to with three goals in four matches.

Chelsea's formation in those three most recent games Lukaku has scored in, incidentally, came with three attackers spread across the frontline. And there was one other common denominator, too: Mason Mount being on the field.

 

MOUNT TO PLAY THE MARTINEZ ROLE?

Mount assisted Lukaku's most recent goal in a 1-1 draw against Brighton and Hove Albion from a corner and the pair have combined to create nine chances in total for one another in the league this term, making it easily Chelsea's most dangerous partnership.

No Chelsea player has combined more regularly with Lukaku than Mount, with the pair linking up 10.06 times per 90 minutes so far this season. While that may not appear a huge amount on the face of it, next on that list is Mateo Kovacic with 6.45 combined passes between himself and Lukaku per 90.

However, Mount still has some way to go if he is to match the 54 combined chances created for each other in Serie A by Lukaku and Martinez in their two seasons used in tandem at Inter, which equated to nine assists.

Lukaku's relationship with Mount does provide some promise, though, as does the Anderlecht academy product's goalscoring performances in his most recent two outings prior to being dropped against Liverpool, showing Chelsea do not necessarily have to replicate Inter's system to help their main man thrive.

 

TUCHEL WILL NOT SHIFT

Lukaku is averaging fewer passes, overall touches and touches in the opposition box this season compared to last, while also shooting less frequently, dribbling less and creating fewer chances for others.

Yet instead of attempting to find the perfect formula and personnel for Lukaku, Tuchel will not shift from his own way of thinking.

"We cannot just play like Inter in the hope that will bring the most out of Lukaku. The system they played not only suited Romelu but also Lautaro Martinez and others. If you don't have five players you can't play five defenders," Tuchel said on the eve of the Tottenham tie.

"It works both ways. It is more about principles of how we play. I feel he is more impatient than anything else. He wants to be involved more, wants more big chances. 

"Like with every transfer, you have to accept there is a change of environment, culture, team-mates, playing style, belief. He's not the first player to take time, but even while doing it he was scoring goals."

And maybe Tuchel has a point. After all, for all the talk of Lukaku's struggles and unhappiness, he is scoring at an almost identical rate to Cristiano Ronaldo (0.54 goals per 90 minutes compared to 0.56), and remains one of Europe's most prolific strikers of the past decade.

Now back from injury and a team exile brought on by his own actions, only Lukaku can ensure he avoids falling down another deep hole that he may this time be unable to escape.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel refuses to change his playing style to suit striker Romelu Lukaku, insisting "we cannot just play like Inter".

Lukaku caused a stir in a controversial interview released on Thursday and Friday, which was initially recorded three weeks ago, as he expressed his unhappiness with his current status at Chelsea.

He also spoke glowingly of former head coach Antonio Conte, who he worked with at Inter, while revealing he would like to return to the Serie A outfit one day.

Tuchel punished Lukaku for his comments by dropping him from his squad to face Liverpool before the pair held talks on Monday and they looked to put the matter aside the following day.

Lukaku has since come out to apologise to all involved at Chelsea, perhaps much to the relief of Tuchel, but the German insisted he will not change his playing style just to suit the forward.

Asked about Lukaku's comments on Conte and Chelsea's playing style, Tuchel said: "It works both ways and we do it with every single player, we have a certain formation and principles of how we play.

"I feel he is more impatient than anything else, he wants to be involved more and have big chances more.

"It is hard for him to accept that sometimes the grass does not grow faster when you cut it – in every transfer you have to accept there is a change of environment, culture, club and team-mates.

"There's a change of playing style and there's a change of league, he's not the first player to take some time - he was already scoring while settling down but we were still adapting to each other.

"We cannot just play like Inter plays and hope that will bring the best out of Romelu. They had a fantastic season because Conte is a fantastic coach.

"But I think the system he played at Inter did not only suit Romelu and the second striker Lautaro Martinez, it also fitted the entire squad. If you don't have five defenders you cannot play with a back five, it's as easy as that.

"The coaches do what they have to do, Conte played in 3-5-2 in the build-up at Chelsea and 3-4-3 at Inter. Obviously he is adapting to his players and from there implanting his ideas – that is exactly what I do as well."

The Belgian scored 47 times in 72 league outings with Conte at Inter – his best such tally under any manager – for a return of 0.72 goals per 90 minutes.

That compares to 0.54 goals per 90 minutes for Chelsea across his 13 games since returning, with the striker failing to assist a goal as of yet.

But Tuchel added that no player operating under his stewardship will be treated any differently to the other, with he and his backroom staff understanding it is their job to maximise the potential of their stars.

"It is of course for us to bring out the best of him, find the right position for him and the right connections to understand which movements and playing styles fit to each other," he continued.

"This is what we do for every single player, it does not matter if the player is expensive or a free agent, or if he's old or young, it does not change.

"In the end it is on the player, we can just help to fulfil his potential. Sometimes it is faster or slower, but everyone does their very best to bring out the full potential – we are still convinced there is room for improvement.

"That's why I was surprised, I don't feel him unhappy, not at all. I was not at all offended as a coach, that's why I don't see a big change in our relationship coming."

Chelsea face Conte's new side Tottenham on Wednesday as the pair do battle in the EFL Cup semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge.

Indeed, Conte previously managed the Blues between 2016 and 2018, winning the Premier League and the FA Cup, and Tuchel was incredibly complimentary of the Italian manager.

"He puts them in positions where they are confident so they can fulfil their potential, this is what Antonio Conte is doing on the domestic level to an outstanding impact," he continued.

"I have nothing but respect for him and I really love to watch his teams play, it will be a pleasure to play against him. We're fully aware how successful he was with Chelsea, I have no doubt how successful he will be with Tottenham.

"I met him once in a friendly match and we had a nice talk during the warm-up. He knows I appreciate a lot what he is doing, his style and all his energy into his team.

"You can clearly see that in any club that he works, you see it is a Conte team as they defend and attack with all the intensity.

"His teams are very hard to beat, it has always been like this and it will be like that on Wednesday."

Romelu Lukaku has apologised to all involved at Chelsea for a controversial interview released last week as he looks to move forward from his mistake.

Lukaku was left out of Chelsea's Premier League squad on Sunday for the 2-2 draw with Liverpool as punishment for comments made in the Italian press.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Lukaku said he was not "very happy with the situation" at Chelsea and expressed a willingness to return to Inter someday.

The interview was conducted three weeks ago but was released in parts on Thursday and Friday, with Blues head coach Thomas Tuchel subsequently standing by his decision to leave Lukaku out of his side as he looked to quash the issue temporarily.

Rumours suggested the Belgium international could be heading for a Stamford Bridge exit, but Tuchel has since confirmed Lukaku returned to training on Tuesday following talks the previous day.

Lukaku has now come out to address the matter in public in an attempt to put the issue to one side.

"To the fans, I'm sorry for the upset I have caused," he said in an interview published by Chelsea's website.

"You guys know the connection I have had with this club since my teenage years, so you know I totally understand you guys being upset.

"Obviously it's up to me now to restore your trust, and every day I will do my best on the training ground and in the games to try to help us win.

"To the manager I apologise, and to my team-mates and the board because I think it was not the right moment also.

"I want to move forward from this and make sure that we start winning football games and I can help the team in the best manner."

Lukaku revealed in the previous interview that he would one day like to return to Inter, where he enjoyed playing under former head coach Antonio Conte.

The striker's comments were met with disdain by Inter fans, but Lukaku has tried to clarify why he agreed to the interview in the first place.

"I should've been much clearer in my message to be totally honest," he continued.

"The interview was about saying goodbye to the Inter fans, it was not about trying to disrespect the [Chelsea] fans and the football club, the owner, my team-mates and the manager.

"They made a lot of effort to bring me back here and I wanted to come back here, I’ve been on a mission since I left.

"They [the fans] don't need to question [my commitment]. I always said I wanted to come here and to be successful, that's why I signed a five-year deal. I think Chelsea is a club that equals success.

"All the players that come here come for winning and I have a special passion for this club. I want to achieve that with this club, I want to win here for many years. I want to make sure I show my commitment every day.

"There are images when I came with my school on a trip that I wanted to play for Chelsea. I came when I was 18, it didn't go so well, now I'm back at 28 in the prime years of my career, I can't mess this up.

"I worked hard for the last 10 years to get this opportunity and I'm really happy to be here."

Lukaku, if selected, will look to redeem himself on the pitch against Conte's Tottenham on Wednesday in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final.

Romelu Lukaku has apologised to Thomas Tuchel for a controversial interview released last week and feels a responsibility to "clean the mess up", according to the Chelsea head coach.

Lukaku was left out of Chelsea's 20-man squad for Sunday's crucial Premier League clash with Liverpool due to comments made in the Italian press.

In the wide-ranging 30-minute discussion, Lukaku said he "is not very happy with the situation" he finds himself in at Chelsea and expressed his desire to one day return to Inter.

The interview, which was conducted three weeks ago but only aired on Thursday and Friday, dominated the pre-match talk ahead of the Blues' 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

Tuchel later stood by his decision to omit the Belgium international, who had scored in Chelsea's previous two games, stating that the issue "got too big and too noisy".

Speculation in the subsequent days has suggested Lukaku, who rejoined the Blues for a club-record fee in August, could be on his way out of Stamford Bridge this year.

But after holding clear-the-air talks with Lukaku on Monday, and with the 28-year-old returning to training on Tuesday, Tuchel is hoping to draw a line under the matter.

"We were happy we took the time to look calmly on it. He apologised and is back in the squad for today's training," Tuchel said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"For me, the most important thing was to understand. He did not do this intentionally to create this kind of noise in front of a big game.

"There are zero doubts about his commitment to the team and the club. Romelu is very aware of what happened and what he created.

"I never, before the interview, had the slightest doubt that he was not committed. He is an emotional guy, he does not hold back with his opinion. 

"We should not just blame him and point on the negative side of it. It created some noise that you don't want but there are zero doubts in his commitment to the team."

Lukaku has scored seven goals in 18 appearances since returning to Chelsea in a campaign blighted by an ankle injury and a positive test for coronavirus.

While Tuchel has accepted Lukaku's apology, it remains to be seen whether he will be welcomed back by Chelsea fans after he admitted his preferred choice was to stay at Inter.

Asked about what reception Lukaku can expect, Tuchel said: "He is aware of what happened and he created and feels the responsibility to clean the mess up.

"But there may still be a smell of course. We are happy that he is our player and we will protect him. If someone strongly disagrees, this is about the team with everything we do.

"Of course he should have known better but that is why we have cleared the air together."

Lukaku is now in contention to return to Chelsea's line-up for Wednesday's EFL Cup semi-final first leg against Tottenham, who are managed by his ex-Inter boss Antonio Conte.

The Belgian scored 47 goals in 72 league appearances with Conte at Inter – his best such tally under any manager – for a return of 0.72 goals per 90 minutes.

That compares to 0.54 goals per 90 minutes for Chelsea across his 13 games since returning, with the striker having also yet to assist a goal.

Tuchel does not believe it is down to him to get more out of Lukaku, however, but more to do with the former Manchester United man readapting to the Premier League.

"I think the players get the best out of themselves," he said. "With Romelu it is not about finding positions. He is a striker, a number nine and that is it. 

"It is about adaption to a different team, team-mates, then comes COVID. We are in a totally normal place with him."

Barcelona want to sign Alvaro Morata and it would appear the Juventus striker wishes to join Xavi's team.

After bringing in Ferran Torres, Xavi would reportedly like to add experienced Spain international Morata to his ranks at Camp Nou.

Morata has scored five Serie A goals for the Bianconeri this season.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS WANT MORATA REPLACEMENT BEFORE AUTHORISING BARCA SWITCH

According to Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona target Morata has informed Juve of his desire to leave the club in January.

Massimiliano Allegri met with the 29-year-old on Monday, with the upshot being that Juve will only grant Morata his move should they be able to find a replacement.

Paris Saint-Germain striker Mauro Icardi is seen as a possible option for the Bianconeri, who are having a poor season in Serie A, sitting 12 points off the summit.

However, further complicating matters in Morata's potential switch to Barca is that he is on loan at Juve from Atletico Madrid, who would need to authorise any transfer.

 

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland , who has been holidaying in Marbella, has told people close to him that he sees his next destination being Spain, with Real Madrid and Barcelona on high alert. That is according to Marca.

- Sky Sports believe that Romelu Lukaku will stay at Chelsea after holding talks with Thomas Tuchel following his comments in an interview with Sky Italia, which resulted in the striker missing Sunday's clash with Liverpool.

- The Daily Mail, citing Gianluca Di Marzio, claim that Barcelona are monitoring the situation of Lukaku's Chelsea team-mate Andreas Christensen, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

- Another Chelsea defender into the last six months of his deal is Antonio Rudiger, with Sky Sports reporting Real Madrid , Bayern Munich , PSG and Juve have all entered talks with the Germany international's representatives. 

- According to The Daily Mail, Newcastle United are aiming to sign Zenit striker Sardar Azmoun. The Iran forward has agreed personal terms with Ligue 1 club Lyon, but the French side may be unable to match Zenit's asking price for the 27-year-old.

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