Thomas Tuchel admits he dropped 'exhausted' Romelu Lukaku to take him out of the firing line

Krishan Davis
Lukaku goes through his warm-up on Tuesday night
Lukaku goes through his warm-up on Tuesday night / Chloe Knott - Danehouse/GettyImages

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has fielded further questions about his decision to drop Romelu Lukaku for the Champions League last 16 first leg against Lille on Tuesday night, saying he wanted to take the striker out of the firing line.

Lukaku has been the focus of significant criticism after he registered a record-low seven touches against Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday. Already something of a lightning rod for abuse, Tuchel opted to leave the Belgian on the bench for the visit of Lille - and Chelsea were comfortable winners in his absence.

Kai Havertz shone in the centre-forward role, going close twice and scoring the opening goal inside ten minutes as the Blues secured a 2-0 first leg victory.

Speaking before the match, Tuchel had put Lukaku's non-involvement against Palace down to fatigue, and he was inevitably faced with further questions after the game.

"This was not the moment after the match where everybody was focused on the few touches he had to put him right away into the next fire," he said.

"It was the moment to take a step back. That was the decision and you can clearly see we had a strong win but almost every question is about Romelu. The focus is huge.

"There are nine other players that didn't play and we should never forget it is a team sport. I think he was tired, a little bit exhausted, lot of extra time, lot of travelling like some of the players."

Lukaku was an unused substitute on Tuesday but did not emerge at full-time with the other players who didn't feature for a post-match warm down.

When asked why that was the case, Tuchel added: "I don't actually know, the fitness guys take care of that. They for sure have a reason if he was not out. They have individual programmes for each player."

The head coach was full of praise for match-winner Havertz, but he revealed Lukaku had every chance of being restored to the starting lineup for Sunday's Carabao Cup final against Liverpool.

"For Kai I'm very pleased because Kai has been very strong for a few weeks now," he said. "He really stepped up and the effort is immense, the work rate is immense, the areas of the pitch that he covers for us is very good.

"Every game is different. The focus today was on intensity, a high-speed game and lots of hard work against the ball, off the ball, to have intensive teamwork and Romelu has struggled in the last games a little bit to deliver that.

"That's what I meant when I said he was tired, not only mentally tired but also physically tired, which I can understand.

"Since the Liverpool game [on 2 January] he started every match for us and there was some extra-time as well. It is like this and today we went for three other players and Kai is in good shape with a lot of confidence and work-rate.

"That was the decision today. For Sunday, we have four days to decide and to recover and of course Romelu has every chance to play."

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