Sport

Thomas Tuchel refuses to guarantee Lukaku return to Chelsea team

Thomas Tuchel refused to guarantee that Romelu Lukaku will be given his place back after the striker was dropped for Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Chelsea host Tottenham in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final on Wednesday and Tuchel will decide whether to bring Lukaku back into the fold only after holding further talks with him on Monday. The manager was left fuming after the £97.5m forward went public with his unhappiness at Stamford Bridge in an unauthorised interview last week and he hinted that he could leave the Belgian out again against Spurs.

“He’s our player, he will stay our player, we will always protect our player,” Tuchel said. “First we need to evaluate the situations, not listen to media or pressure, understand what he said and why he said it.

“Then we will take the decision if he is good to go for Wednesday. I cannot tell you right now because we need to talk and understand the situation more and on we go. Once the situation is clear he will stay our player and we protect our player.”

Lukaku had caused a storm by questioning Tuchel’s system and saying he wants to return to Internazionale one day. The comments went down badly at Chelsea and it is understood Tuchel, who held talks with senior players before picking his team, had the backing of the dressing room after omitting the club’s record signing.

“I don’t take decisions in my office,” Tuchel said. “I have players to listen to and hear their opinions about what they think and I make my decisions once I hear them out. It’s their club and their team. It’s not a personal thing for me.”

Tuchel, who would not say what he wants from the meeting on Monday, was asked if he had intended to make a stand against Lukaku’s behaviour. “It’s not Chelsea like but it’s also not the worst thing in the world,” he said. “I don’t feel personally attacked. On Saturday new statements appeared and it got too big, too much noise, and we lost the focus of the match.

“We wanted to protect Romelu from a rash decision because we need to speak with him, read the full interview and stay calm. It was simply the decision to protect the match like this. It was too much noise. This was clear that he will not be in the squad.”

The result dealt a major blow to Chelsea’s and Liverpool’s hopes of catching Manchester City. Liverpool appeared to have revived their title prospects after goals from Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah put them 2-0 up but Chelsea levelled through Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic before the break.

Chelsea were aggrieved that Mané was still on the pitch to score the opener after the Liverpool forward escaped with a booking for an elbow on César Azpilicueta in the first minute.

“It’s a clear red,” Azpilicueta said. “I don’t care if it’s five seconds into the game – he doesn’t look for the ball, he just wants to hit me with the elbow. I don’t understand. We are getting a lot of decisions against us.”

City are 10 points above Chelsea and 11 clear of Liverpool, who have a game in hand. However Pep Lijnders, who stood in for Jürgen Klopp after Liverpool’s manager tested positive for Covid-19, refused to admit that the race is over.

“We never look at others,” Klopp’s assistant said. “The title race is only decided on the last match. We have to focus on ourselves. That’s how we always did it. We only focus on the next game. This is how we became champions and won the Champions League.”