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Tuchel must reintegrate Lukaku quickly after interview saga

Thomas Tuchel’s reasoning for omitting Romelu Lukaku from his matchday squad for one of Chelsea’s biggest games of the season was sound. The Belgian had become something of a distraction after an interview surfaced just days before the crunch Premier League clash against Liverpool in which Lukaku raised questions over his future at Stamford Bridge.

According to reports, Tuchel gauged the sentiment within the Chelsea squad before dropping Lukaku with a number of the striker’s own teammates believed to be unhappy at his remarks. Tuchel needed to make this decision for the sake of his own authority within the dressing room but he now faces the threat of it costing him as Chelsea manager.

Lukaku’s addition in the summer transfer window was a statement of intent from a club that had been crowned European champions just a matter of weeks beforehand. The Belgian is widely considered one of the best goalscorers in the game and his return to Stamford Bridge for a club record fee of around £98m said a lot about the ambition Chelsea had to challenge Liverpool and Manchester City for the Premier League title.

After all, Tuchel’s team had previously lacked a frontman like Lukaku. Timo Werner had arrived from RB Leipzig the previous summer but the German international had emerged as more of a secondary striker. Kai Havertz was another notable addition, but he played the number nine role in a different way. Chelsea needed a goalscorer and Lukaku is one of the best around, as he has demonstrated over a number of years for club and country.

However, friction between Tuchel and Lukaku even prior to the interview has hindered the integration of the 28-year-old, who has been asked to play in a different way to how he played at Inter, where Antonio Conte unlocked the full potential of the forward by giving him freedom to stretch his legs and carry the ball towards goal. Tuchel has so far asked Lukaku to play as a more orthodox frontman.

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At this specific moment in time, Tuchel might feel he has the political standing to drop Lukaku but that might change should Chelsea’s current slide continue. Not so long ago, the Blues were the ones setting the pace at the top of the Premier League table. Since then, though, Chelsea have won just four of their last 11 league fixtures and trail Manchester City by 10 points after Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool. The collapse has been quite remarkable.

It is in Tuchel’s own interests to resolve the interview situation with Lukaku otherwise he could find that his employers side with a £98m asset over their manager. Chelsea have a track record of ruthlessly shifting between managers when results are underwhelming or the atmosphere in the dressing room has soured. Tuchel must be wary of both happening under his stewardship.

To an outsider, Lukaku’s struggles at Chelsea this season don’t make much sense. Tuchel set up his team to play on the counter attack last season and the Belgian should be perfect for this approach. Not only is Lukaku capable of playing in this way as a frontman, he is comfortable drifting out wide which should also make space for the likes of Havertz and Werner to contribute.

Chelsea might already be out of the Premier League title race, with City winning matches at will, but they still have a lot to fight for, not least their European crown in the Champions League. There is still time for Tuchel and Lukaku to get on the same page but the German has a duty to ensure the interview story ends well for all parties concerned.



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