Thomas Tuchel is considering whether to punish Romelu Lukaku for his explosive interview by dropping the striker for Chelsea’s home game against Liverpool on Sunday afternoon.
Lukaku is sweating on his place after he angered Tuchel by going public with his frustrations with life at Chelsea and saying he would like to return to Internazionale one day. There have been suggestions that the Belgian could even be left out entirely against Liverpool, though it remains to be seen whether he is part of the squad that takes on Jürgen Klopp’s side.
Tuchel has not hidden his displeasure with Lukaku’s comments, which were aired in an unauthorised interview with Sky Italia on Thursday night, and it is understood he remains “livid” with Chelsea’s record signing. The German has held talks with Lukaku, who left Inter for £97.5m last summer, but he could yet decide to take disciplinary action.
Chelsea were caught unawares when Lukaku’s remarks about his difficulties adapting to Tuchel’s system were published. The interview is understood to have taken place three weeks ago and was intended to help Lukaku build bridges with Inter fans, but it ended up causing unrest at Stamford Bridge. The club are likely to back Tuchel if he punishes Lukaku, though the manager could settle on fining the forward rather than in effect giving him a one-game ban.
It would be a huge gamble for Tuchel to drop Lukaku. Chelsea are 11 points behind Manchester City and need to beat Liverpool to stay in the title race. Kai Havertz could be in line to start up front if Lukaku is left out.
In a press conference for Sunday’s game Tuchel said that were it not for injuries and Covid‑19, Chelsea would be much closer to Manchester City in the Premier League title race and said they “will not stop trying” to hunt down Pep Guardiola’s side between now and the end of the season.
Chelsea have won one of their past four league games, with the latest setback being Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Brighton, when Danny Welbeck rescued a point for the visitors at Stamford Bridge with an injury-time header. On the same evening, City made it 10 league victories in a row with a 1-0 triumph at Brentford, extending that run with a 2-1 win against Arsenal on New Year’s Day. Tuchel says competing with rivals who have turned themselves into a “winning machine” in recent years is proving difficult. Nonetheless, he is adamant Chelsea have what it takes and are only being hampered by a lack of personnel.
Ben Chilwell, Thiago Silva, N’Golo Kanté, Jorginho and Ruben Loftus‑Cheek have been out with injury in recent weeks while Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Mateo Kovacic have been unavailable for selection having tested positive for Covid.
There were more setbacks against Brighton when Reece James sustained a suspected torn hamstring that rules him out of Sunday’s encounter with Liverpool, while Andreas Christensen suffered a back strain that makes him a doubt for the same game.
“When you look at 2021 [overall], we are 20 points behind and you have to be careful that you’re not over-ambitious and don’t get frustrated by not catching them,” said Tuchel of City. “They know what it takes to produce high-point seasons over and over again. It’s quality all over the club. It’s a machine, a winning machine.
“Maybe it’s a longer race than one season to catch Man City because they will not stop improving. But the huge difference at this moment is with injuries and Covid. I am absolutely convinced that if we are in the same place without having key players out for weeks we [would have] more points and be in the back of them [City].
“That’s why there’s no need to get negative, no need to lose faith. The opposite – we will stay hungry. We will not stop trying.”
Tuchel said this period of his tenure as Chelsea manager – the first anniversary of which is this month – has been challenging but, overall, he remains in good spirits, seen most clearly when he was asked who he thinks most people in Germany will want to win when he and Jurgen Klopp go head-to-head.
“If you have a full stadium and put Jürgen in it, he could arrive without a team and it would still be full with people laughing for two hours,” Tuchel said with a smile. “That’s his gift, that’s what makes him special. I cannot do it. I will never try.”