Why Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku was left out vs. Liverpool: Explaining Thomas Tuchel’s squad decision

Chelsea will attempt to keep its Premier League title hopes alive without club-record signing Romelu Lukaku after manager Thomas Tuchel left the $135 million forward out of the squad to face Liverpool following the release of an interview the former gave to an Italian media outlet.

In the interview with Sky Sports Italia — which was reportedly conducted several weeks ago — Lukaku said he was not happy at Chelsea, citing a change in tactics by Tuchel. Though he also stated that he was a professional and was committed to working hard.

The release of those comments caused a media storm, especially since Lukaku also spoke in glowing terms about his time at Inter Milan and his desire to one day return to the Italian club that he helped lead to a league title in 2020-21 prior to his move to Chelsea.

Tuchel was forced to address the interview in his pre-match news conference ahead of what is a potentially decisive league battle against Liverpool with 11 points separating the Blues from first-place Manchester City. The German manager lamented that it was “noise that we don’t need” and also made the case that he has made minimal tactical tweaks to the team: “You will find not a lot of system changes, if you find any.”

Whatever subsequent private conversations were had until now with Lukaku didn’t seem to remedy the situation. Former Everton teammate Tim Howard exchanged texts with Lukaku on Sunday morning sharing that Lukaku and Tuchel are “going to have another meeting. I can speak more after that. Right now the situation is too hot.”

Now the Blues have to face a likely season-deciding match without their lead striker, who has scored in his last two outings.

What Lukaku said in Sky Sports interview

The timing of the Sky interview release was curious, given it reportedly was conducted three weeks prior. It also came at a time when Lukaku seemed to be gaining some momentum after an injury saw him miss extensive time. He scored in his first two matches back in the lineup.

“I’m not happy with the situation and that’s only natural,” Lukaku told Sky Sports Italia (in comments translated from Italian). “The head coach has decided to play a different system, but I need to keep working hard and be professional.

“I’m not happy with the situation but I’m a worker and I cannot give up.”

There was plenty of speculation as to what Tuchel would do in response. His decision to drop Lukaku from the squad is a clear sign that the interview was perceived as conduct detrimental to the team.

It will be interesting to see how Tuchel addresses his decision in his pre-match comments ahead of the Liverpool match.

Will Lukaku leave Chelsea? What happens next?

Lukaku’s comments to Sky Sports Italia may have come at a moment of frustration as he was making his way back from a lengthy injury absence during what has been a choppy start to his return at Chelsea.

He has missed eight of 21 league matches and he has only scored in four of his 13 appearances for a total of five Premier League goals. He also found the net twice in the four Champions League matches he played.

Tuchel referenced the difficult start to the season that the Belgian international has experienced after joining in August on a $135 million transfer fee from Inter Milan: “Romelu played when he came, then he got injured, then he caught COVID. It does not make it better, but that is my situation. He gave an interview, so maybe he has a problem so he needs to speak up. I don’t have one.”

Given the level of investment made by Chelsea, it’s hard to see the defending European champions looking to offload a player deemed to be critical to their ability to challenge for major titles in 2021-22. Differences in tactical opinions are commonplace inside clubs and can be resolved. The main issue in this case is the judgment shown by the 28-year-old in taking his opinion to the media — and apparently blindsiding his own manager and hurting his team.

Especially since Lukaku made it clear in the interview that he’d continue to work hard and be professional — he has scored two goals since doing the sit-down interview — it would seem there would be a willingness from the player to make the situation work. However, it’s the words he expressed about Inter Milan and his love for his former Italian club that will probably be the hardest part to digest for Chelsea supporters. It’s telling that Lukaku has yet to address the matter publicly.

The reaction among fans and media has been mixed, with most siding with Tuchel for a decision many felt he had to make. Meanwhile, some Chelsea supporters also expressed a feeling of betrayal:

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