Chelsea's Tuchel meets with dropped Lukaku to discuss player's comments

Trevoh Chalobah of Chelsea battles for possession with Sadio Mane of Liverpool during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge on January 2, 2022 in London
Trevoh Chalobah of Chelsea battles for possession with Sadio Mane of Liverpool during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge on January 2, 2022 in London
Image: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel held talks with Romelu Lukaku on Monday to discuss recent comments by the Belgian that were critical of the coach's tactics and which cost the striker his place in Sunday's 2-2 home draw with Liverpool.

Lukaku, signed from Inter Milan in the close season for a club-record 97.5 million pounds ($131.74 million), had told Sky Italy he was unhappy with Tuchel's system, adding he would like to return to Italy at some point in his career.

Tuchel declined to reveal what he said to Lukaku in Monday's meeting or whether the 28-year-old will be back in the side for Wednesday's League Cup semifinal, first leg at home to London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

“I cannot tell you what I want from a meeting that is happening behind closed doors. I cannot speak out publicly and I will not,” Tuchel told reporters.

The German said Lukaku had been dropped to avoid distracting the team from Sunday's encounter with Liverpool.

“The noise was too big,” Tuchel added. “It was too much noise, we lost totally the focus for the match and we took the decision to delay the decision.”

The coach said deferring the discussion with Lukaku would “protect Romelu from a rash decision.

“We need to speak to him, we need to read the full interview and stay calm and not lose our head. He is our player and will stay our player. We will always protect our player.

“And when we make certain decisions like these, we need to evaluate the situation and not listen to the media or pressure but understand what he said, why he said (it) and this is the meeting tomorrow. From there we will take the decision.”

Tuchel said Sunday's draw with Liverpool had been “a brilliant game of football” and his side had been unlucky to find themselves two goals down before claiming a point.

“Coming back from 2-0 was immense,” he said.

All the goals came in the first half with Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic bringing Chelsea level just before the break after Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah had put Liverpool in front.

The result meant Chelsea remained second on 43 points from 21 games, one point ahead of Liverpool, who have a game in hand. Leaders Manchester City have 53 points from 21.

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk said it was not inevitable that City would end up with the title.

“Nothing is impossible,” he told the BBC. “It's a big gap but it’s football and anything can happen.”

With both sides weakened by absences Liverpool quickly had the game in their grip through Mane and Salah before they depart for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Mane, who escaped with only a yellow card after elbowing Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta in the face in the opening seconds, capitalised on an error by Trevoh Chalobah to open the scoring in the ninth minute.

Salah doubled the lead 17 minutes later when he ghosted past Marcos Alonso to reach a Trent Alexander-Arnold pass and lifted the ball over goalkeeper Edouard Mendy from a tight angle.

Chalobah redeemed himself after his earlier mistake with a last-gasp tackle to stop Salah scoring a third for Liverpool, whose coach Jurgen Klopp was also missing due to Covid-19.

The Blues clawed their way back into the game in the 42nd minute when Kovacic majestically volleyed in off a post from the edge of the box after a punched clearance by Liverpool's reserve keeper Caoimhin Kelleher.

Four minutes later, Chelsea were level when Pulisic latched onto a pass by N'Golo Kante that beat Liverpool's offside trap and the American forward coolly lifted the ball over Kelleher into the net.

Both sides went close in the second half with Mendy and Kelleher pulling off good saves.

Mendy, who is also due to head to the Africa Cup of Nations which starts on January 9, palmed away a Salah shot in the 57th and had to repeat the feat two minutes later to save from Mane.

In the 62nd, Kelleher — replacing Allison Becker, one of three Liverpool players out due to Covid-19 — saved a close-range header by Pulisic. Twenty minutes later the Ireland keeper was in action again to stop a Mason Mount shot. — Reuters




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