Romelu Lukaku fluffs chance at Thomas Tuchel redemption despite Chelsea win over Tottenham
Chelsea v Tottenham: Match in pictures
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After a week of noise, finally came a chance for Romelu Lukaku to do his talking on the pitch. Lukaku has been through the ringer at Chelsea over the past seven days after his decision to give an interview to Italian media in an attempt to placate Inter Milan fans backfired spectacularly.
Chelsea may have laid waste to Tottenham in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final, picking up a 2-0 win, but there was little in the way of personal redemption for Lukaku.
In the Belgian striker’s defence, he did not actually have to lead the fight, with the visitors intent on pressing the self-destruct button at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues dominated the first half and went into the break with a deserved 2-0 lead, but one which was strangely not of their own making.
Thomas Tuchel’s high press and Marcos Alonso can take plenty of credit for the opener, which came courtesy of Kai Havertz.
Alonso did well to read an under-hit pass from Japhet Tanganga to Emerson Royal and slid in Havertz, whose finish went into the roof of the net via Davinson Sanchez’s outstretched foot.
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It got even more farcical from a Tottenham perspective when Tanganga inexplicably headed a free-kick straight into Ben Davies to give the Welshman an unwanted own goal.
Tottenham improved after the break, but that was not saying much – and they could not find a foothold in the match ahead of the second leg on Wednesday, with Kepa Arrizabalaga making a late save from Giovani Lo Celso to preserve his clean sheet.
Despite losing N’Golo Kante and Thiago Silva to COVID-19, Tuchel’s side were comfortable in seeing out a professional win, even if their under-fire striker did not contribute.
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Before the Sky Sports Italia interview dropped last Thursday, Lukaku was quite content.
After shaking off COVID-19, he had made a promising return to the Chelsea side over December, scoring three times in his past four games coming into this match.
But the interview, which had been recorded three weeks previously, turned his week upside down, causing a furore the striker did not expect.
Tuchel was reportedly furious with his £97million man for causing an unwanted distraction ahead of Sunday’s game against Liverpool and reacted by dropping him from the squad.
Lukaku was forced to make a grovelling apology on Wednesday, and with that done he was finally released from purgatory to play some football.
A London derby against Spurs – and his former Inter manager Antonio Conte – looked like the perfect opportunity to earn redemption and win back Chelsea fans. It did not work out that way.
Lukaku could have changed the narrative inside the first minute, but after getting the wrong side of a shaky Spurs defence he opted to pass rather than shoot on goal.
That moment was not a sign of things to come; fast-forward 30 minutes later and Lukaku had touched the ball on just four occasions.
After 41 minutes his big chance came and went. With Mat Doherty backing off, Hakim Ziyech measured a perfect cross, but Lukaku could only guide a free header wide after jumping above Sanchez.
There were further glimpses of his quality in a snap shot on the turn and a nicely-weighted lay-off to Ziyech. But the goal he so craved did not come, with Sanchez shutting the door with a well-timed challenge on the break and an injury-time effort going straight at Hugo Lloris.
There will be other opportunities, with matches coming thick and fast over the coming weeks and Tuchel keen to move on from the entire saga.
Yet with Havertz back on the score sheet and Timo Werner making a return from the bench in the second half, Lukaku is not guaranteed his place leading the line.
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