Thomas Tuchel tried to pull Romelu Lukaku out of the “fire” of public focus by putting him on the bench for the first time in eleven games, but that’s easier said than done, and the spotlight continues to shine brightly on him. The post-match conversation following Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Lille last night has still been dominated by our record signing, including this provocative little bit in the Telegraph, which announces that Lukaku considered himself fully fit and ready to go — despite Tuchel also citing mental and physical fatigue for his decision (and hinting pretty clearly that was very much a tactical decision as well).
The report also adds that Lukaku was “positive” and “pleased” for the team like a good teammate should be, and that he will now “try to convince Tuchel to recall him”, like any good professional should. But neither of those things make for good headlines.
When everyone’s fit, which we seem to be apart from Hakim Ziyech’s potential ankle (Achilles?) problem and maybe Callum Hudson-Odoi’s recent knock, Chelsea have an embarrassment of attacking riches — at least on paper — and not just because of the untold millions spent. Kai Havertz was our previous record signing, and has scored two of the biggest goals in club history already. Timo Werner was the main man last year and is now healthy again. Christian Pulisic has made it repeatedly clear that he wants a run in the first-team, and not at wing-back (see also: Hudson-Odoi) And Mason Mount shoots lasers out of his eyeballs if he doesn’t play. Even if we play with three forwards, multiple big and/or expensive names will be left on the bench.
Of course, making those decisions, managing those minutes, and massaging those egos is part of the job definition. Tuchel isn’t the first or the last Chelsea head coach to have to deal with this sort of dilemma — which we call a “good problem to have” when things are going right and “player power” when things are not.
Players want to play all the minutes. If they don’t, they won’t make it at this level. Lukaku is no different, which is part of the reason he’s here (again). That’s step one. Making this reunion work as well as we might have imagined back in the summer is proving a more difficult task than hoped for, but where there is a will, there’s usually a way. That’s step two.
But maybe not (yet) on Sunday.