Chelsea make shock call on $130MN Lukaku
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich could be ruing the $130 million deal to bring Romelu Lukaku back to the club after a shock call by manager Thomas Tuchel ahead of the potentially crucial visit of Liverpool.
The Champions League winners are currently 11 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City, making the meeting with Jurgen Klopp's men, who trail them by a single point and have a game in hand, a must-win game.
Days before the vital showdown, striker Lukaku caused controversy in an unauthorized interview in which he appeared to criticize coach Tuchel, communicated a desire to return to former club Inter Milan one day and said he was "not happy with the situation" at Stamford Bridge.
As punishment, the Belgium international will sit out Sunday's match and not even make the bench despite the Blues being ravaged by absences.
Tuchel on Romelu Lukaku out: “The thing got too big, too noisy, so close to the match, so I decided to protect the preparation for the match”, he told @SkySports. 🔵 #CFC“Of course we have spoken, twice to the main players - but after that we had to realise it’s too big”. pic.twitter.com/qm3AJnDjPS— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) January 2, 2022
Romelu Lukaku to @SkySport: "Physically I am fine. But I'm NOT happy with the situation at Chelsea. Tuchel has chosen to play with another system - I won't give up, I'll be professional. I am not happy with the situation but I am professional - and I can't give up now". 🔵 #CFCpic.twitter.com/KGNoJ10cwp— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) December 30, 2021
Lukaku had scored in his last two matches after returning to training following an ankle injury and a positive Covid test.
Tuchel said during his pre-match press conference that he would stage "behind closed doors talks" with the club's record signing.
"I don't like it," Tuchel admitted of Lukaku's interview, which was reportedly recorded weeks ago but only aired on Thursday.
🚨Romelu Lukaku to @TimHowardGK:“I can’t say too much. The situation is hot. I have another meeting on Monday. After that, I can say more”Tim Howard has been texting with Lukaku according to @NBCSportsSoccerpic.twitter.com/jkktTiZuSD— Evan (@cfcevo2) January 2, 2022
"But I don’t want to make more out of it than it actually is. It is very easy to take lines out of context."
NBC said that Lukaku had sent a text to former Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was a teammate of his when the pair were at Everton, to reveal that he "can't say too much" about the saga.
"The situation is hot," he purportedly told Howard. "I have another meeting on Monday. After that, I can say more."
Easy to lump in on #RomeluLukaku, but remember, there are always two sides to every falling out at a football club. One thing’s for sure, though, is that regardless of the true circumstances the fans, understandably, will almost always back the club, not the player.— Gary Lineker 💙 (@GaryLineker) January 2, 2022
Ex-United and England defender Gary Neville said that no manager could be criticized for following Tuchel's approach.
"Control is critical for a manager and, if you have had those words said in the week, they're not easy words to hear for the manager or the owners who've invested £100 million from the club – but also for his teammates, who are looking for a brilliant season and trying to win the Premier League title," Neville told Sky Sports.
"Chelsea have got a great [locker] room in terms of quality but their star player, their biggest signing has come out and said [that].
🗣 "The best thing he can do is not give interviews anymore, that is just bad, bad, bad!"@jf9hasselbaink can't understand the logic for Romelu Lukaku's interview about his unhappiness at Chelsea pic.twitter.com/kwNC5S3SaB— Football Daily (@footballdaily) January 2, 2022
We’ve got Super Thomas Tuchel,He knows exactly what we need 💙 pic.twitter.com/6HTeeOtCLQ— Uber Chelsea FC ⭐️⭐️ (@UberCheIseaFC) January 2, 2022
"Tuchel has alluded to the fact that he wants him to train harder, he wants him to work harder. Chelsea will have been amazed that those comments have come out this week. It will have stunned them.
"Tuchel, because of his Champions League success, is in a position of strength. You're never in a position of total strength [at Chelsea] because you're always a few months away from getting the sack but he's done a brilliant job; I do think the players respect him. Those words will have hurt and they will have hurt his teammates."
Neville now believes that Lukaku and Chelsea will have a "transactional relationship" in which he will be judged purely on goals and performances – but the pundit feels Lukaku can redeem himself on the pitch.
Stamford the mascot 🦁 https://t.co/vR1KkiLmJu— Brazil 🇧🇷 Chelsea FC 💙 (@K_T_B_F_F_H_) January 2, 2022
Romelu Lukaku has the ego of Cristiano Ronaldo, and the trophy cabinet of Alexander Buttner.— Alexei (@MUFC_redarmy99) December 31, 2021
"He has to now, somehow, try to win his way back into Thomas Tuchel's plans," said the eight-time Premier League winner.
"The fans have to try to accept him somewhat – they will if he carries on playing and doing what he's been doing.
"Win football matches and the fans will be won round. But it does become [something other than] a love story in a transactional relationship."
Am told Chelsea squad broadly supportive of how Tuchel has handled all this.— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) January 2, 2022
I trust Thomas Tuchel to do what he thinks is the right thing on the Lukaku situation. He's the one speaking to Rom and seeing his 'reactions' to the interview coming out. The board are behind TT.— Simon Phillips (@siphillipssport) January 2, 2022
One reporter claimed to have been told that the squad is "broadly supportive" of how Tuchel has handed the whole affair.
On social media, opinion was divided as to whether Chelsea have made the right decision to discipline Lukaku by dropping him, with one observer receiving more than 1,000 'likes' for calling the omission of the 28-year-old correct.
"He made those comments off the pitch and therefore they had to be addressed off the pitch," said an opposition voice.
Correct decision.— Mod (@CFCMod_) January 2, 2022
Wrong, he made those comments off the pitch and therefore had to be addressed off the pitch. As far as he is doing well in training he has to be there. Look I'm not a Chelsea fan but really think you guys got it wrong there which could be costly against Liverpool— Barca Abdul (@OsmanAbdulHake3) January 2, 2022
"As far as he is doing well in training, he has to be [in the squad]. I'm not a Chelsea fan but really think you guys got it wrong, which could be costly against Liverpool."
"He wasn't going to do much today – let's be honest," said another. "He's awful against defenders he can't physically dominate and he isn't doing that against [Virgil] Van Dijk or [Ibrahima] Konate."
Tuchel complained about his depleted options and explained that he had relied on academy players and a 14-man squad for the 0-0 draw at also-rans Wolves on December 19, adding that there are limits to how often a team can "survive" matches with so many players missing.
Incredible to see the Chelsea fan base almost entirely behind Tuchel rather than a player, love to see it. Thomas Tuchel is taking the club into a new period of quality football and any player that does not want to be there can leave. Good to see people backing the vision.— Jai Mcintosh (@Jai_Mcintosh) January 2, 2022
Players need to learn that they cannot make unauthorized interviews and talk trash like that without consequences. Nobody’s bigger than the club.— Jen (@JenR4hme) January 2, 2022
"At some point it catches [up with] you," he said. "We will push to the maximum to beat Liverpool.
"The day after Liverpool, no matter if we make it [through] or not, the [injury] situation will catch us again... and that’s why we struggle. This will not go away with one win."
Chelsea are without England full-backs Reece James – who has a hamstring problem – and Ben Chilwell, who is likely to miss the rest of the season following knee surgery.
Tuchel dropping Lukaku with support from the board would be fantastic. Finally starts to show players that no one is bigger than the club and the board backing it would mean they can’t just blame the manager. I’m all for it. #CFC— David (@CFCsocial) January 2, 2022
Chelsea's next six fixtures 😳Will Thomas Tuchel continue to drop Lukaku? 👀 pic.twitter.com/0GtNiJehVq— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) January 2, 2022
Tuchel will also be missing Andreas Christensen and Timo Werner against the Reds.
Chelsea will hope to resolve the issue quickly ahead of a run of four matches in ten days starting with a visit from Tottenham in the EFL Cup on Wednesday.
They then host Chesterfield in the FA Cup on Saturday and face Spurs in the return leg the following Wednesday before heading to runaway table-toppers City on January 15.