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The Belgian has not started a Premier League game since the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on February 19 and was left out of the starting XI for the FA Cup semi-final against the Eagles after recovering from a heel problem. Tuchel, who claimed he was ready to give Lukaku a chance to impress him at Wembley, clearly had doubts over his fitness.
Instead, the Belgian was forced to sit in the dugout and watch Kai Havertz and Timo Werner start up front. And Tuchel, who signed Lukaku from Inter Milan for £97.5million last summer, was blunt in his assessment of the 28-year-old’s situation when asked about his absence from his starting XI.
“He’s not fit enough to play 90 minutes, not fit enough for the intensity of our game, it’s as easy as that,” Tuchel told ITV Sport. “He had an injury, he missed minutes, so his match fitness isn’t there, otherwise there’s a big chance he’d be playing today.”
Lukaku has struggled in his second spell at Stamford Bridge, scoring 12 goals in all competitions but only five of those have come in the Premier League. The striker is at risk of finishing the season behind holding midfielder Jorginho, who has scored all six of his goals from the penalty spot.
The towering striker had been in decent form before an ankle problem ruled out of action for six weeks. He then rocked the club with an ill-timed interview claiming he was unhappy with Tuchel’s tactics and wanted to return to Inter, and things have not been the same between the pair since.
He was only summoned from the bench once Mason Mount had made it 2-0 after Ruben Loftus-Cheek had put the Blues in front on Sunday. Tuchel suggested he could win back his trust with hard work and by making a difference from the bench, but his shocking late miss would not have helped his case.
“For sure. He had a huge chance against Real Madrid [at home] and things can go so fast,” Tuchel said, referencing Lukaku’s costly miss against Real Madrid. “Nobody knows what this goal would have done for us if he had taken his chance with the late header in the first leg. It is exactly what he needs to do.
Wait, be patient, work hard and put the team first, be ready to help the team, because as a striker you can help within seconds.
Especially for strikers, things can be turned around in minutes, in moments. Whole careers can be upside down and in any direction but always as a striker you can have a chance to put things into your favour, as a substitute or if you have the chance to perform from the beginning.”
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