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Thomas Tuchel explains decision to take Romelu Lukaku out of the ‘fire’

...and into the frying pan?

FBL-EUR-C1-CHELSEA-LILLE Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Romelu Lukaku had started ten games in a row, the longest active streak on the team even ahead of Antonio Rüdiger, so it was only inevitable that he would get dropped to the bench for at least a breather at one point or another. That said point came in a Champions League Round of 16 leg against Lille, rather than, say, some random cup game against Chesterfield or Plymouth or Al Hilal does seem to elevate the decision into something a bit more meaningful however — especially after Lukaku’s attention-grabbing (and not for the right reasons) performance over the weekend.

Head coach Thomas Tuchel admitted afterwards that all the negative attention did in fact play a big part in his decision, just as it did after the infamous interview, though only a part.

“It was not the moment after the match where everybody was focused on the few touches that he had to put him right into the next fire. It was the moment to take a step back. That was the decision and that’s it. [The] focus is huge. There were nine other players who did not play.

“We should never forget we consider this sport a team sport and the eleven guys who play do everything to commit fully to what we plan and to commit fully to their teammates and those on the bench have to do the same and this is how it works. Especially at Chelsea and especially for us and this is how we win football matches.”

How we actually won last night’s football match was indeed indicative of the Lukaku conundrum we’ve been dealing with all season.

While we were still quite far from our best, we not only controlled the match and played solid defense, as usual for the most part, we also put in tremendous work off the ball, individually and collectively and in every phase. It was a throwback to last year’s Champions League campaign — not necessarily executed as well, but certainly following the same general gameplan.

Chelsea FC v Lille OSC: Round Of Sixteen Leg One - UEFA Champions League Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Tuchel tried to play this off as a one-off sort of situation, citing fatigue as well, but the harsh reality seems to be that we cannot play the same style as effectively with Lukaku on the pitch. And we’ve yet to figure out an equally effectively style with him on the pitch. Perhaps we’ll figure out one or both of these issues eventually, but for right now, some big decision need to be made including for this weekend’s League Cup final.

“We had a very aggressive high line today on the pitch with the offensive three players together. The formation was to have intensity, a high work-rate consistently throughout the whole match and they did all very good.”

“Every game is different. The focus today was on intensity and a high-speed game. It was about hard work against the ball, off the ball and have intensive teamwork. Romelu struggled in the last few games a little bit to deliver that. That’s what I meant when I felt him a bit tired both mentally and physically. [...] Today, we went for three other players with Kai in great shape, very confident and giving a lot of work rate in high intensive metres for the team.”

“[The] decision [for Sunday] doesn’t need to be made today but can be in the next four days. He [Lukaku] has every chance to play.”

-Thomas Tuchel; source: Football.London

In his 13 months in charge so far, Tuchel has pressed most of the correct buttons the vast majority of the time. This one looks an especially fateful one however.