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Has in-form Lukaku done enough to start for Chelsea in the FA Cup final against Liverpool?

8:00 AM WAT 14/05/2022
Romelu Lukaku Chelsea Leeds Premier League 2021-22
The Belgian striker has struggled for most of the season but he could lead the line against Liverpool after three goals in his past two games

Romelu Lukaku's price tag hasn't been a factor in Thomas Tuchel's team selections over the past couple of months.

The £100 million ($136m) superstar signed from Inter last summer had to spend most of his time on the bench during that period.

However, after going three months without a goal in the Premier League, the Belgian has struck three times in his last two outings, turning in excellent performances against Wolves and Leeds that helped Chelsea claim four precious points that have put them on the verge of qualification for next season's Champions League.

Lukaku's late-season resurgence is both a blessing and a headache for Tuchel, who now has a very big decision to make for Saturday's FA Cup final showdown with Liverpool: should he start the club's record signing up front – or Kai Havertz?

Lukaku is obviously the man in form. Havertz, after all, hasn't scored in seven matches.

However, the versatile Germany international offers something different and has served Tuchel well this season.

It will essentially come down to how the Blues boss wants to approach the game against in-form Liverpool, with Chelsea desperate to avoid losing three consecutive FA Cup finals, and a sixth domestic final in a row if you include Carabao Cup defeats.

Tuchel is giving little away at the moment, though he did express his satisfaction that Lukaku, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount are now buzzing with belief, suggesting they could get the nod to start in attack at Wembley.

"It's always the right time to find a rhythm," the German coach said of Lukaku's return to form. "I'm happy he scored again [against Leeds on Wednesday] and he wanted to stay on the pitch to get his goal.

"I'm happy as well for 'Puli' and Mason that we were decisive with the offensive players. This is important for them because it gives them confidence."

It's also worth remembering that Havertz was dropped to the bench for the past two matches after proving frustratingly wasteful in last month's 1-1 draw at Manchester United.

"He needs to fight back into his shape," Tuchel said of his compatriot at Old Trafford. "But the guys are still young up front and we will not start pointing fingers." 

However, the 22-year-old Havertz has repeatedly proven himself a good fit for Tuchel's tactics, with his excellent pressing and his outstanding technique enabling him to link the midfield to the attack.

His ability to defend from the front played a small but significant role in Chelsea's Champions League-winning run last season when all 11 players worked hard to ensure their defence was impregnable during a record-breaking defensive run to glory.

Even when not scoring, Havertz also has a propensity for popping up with big goals, with the former Bayer Leverkusen man scoring in both the Champions League and Club World Cup finals.

Furthermore, Havertz has started all three of his side's matches with Liverpool this season, with Lukaku only starting once alongside the German in the league game at Anfield in August.

That match shows that they could be paired together but it isn't an option that Tuchel has seriously considered of late.

"It's very likely it's one of the two, but we will not give the line-up today," the manager told reporters on the eve of the cup final. "Romelu played and scored lately, and has done everything to be on the pitch."

All three of Chelsea's previous clashes with Liverpool this season ended level but, in the Carabao Cup final in March, Klopp's side went on to win on penalties, after Kepa Arrizabalaga missed his spot-kick in an epic shootout.

Past performances against Jurgen Klopp's side, and Pep Guardiola's Manchester City, will certainly weigh heavily on Tuchel's mind when he sits down to pick his team for this latest visit to Wembley.

Unfortunately for Lukaku, he hasn't performed particularly well in Chelsea's meetings with the two best teams in the country this season.

It's also worth remembering that he also struggled against England's finest during his two-year stay at Manchester United, when he scored just once against big-six opposition in 24 appearances in all competitions.

It will be fascinating, then, to see what Tuchel decides to do, particularly as putting Lukaku back on the bench could have a bearing on whether the forward decides to stay at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea are set to hold talks with Lukaku and his representatives at the end of the season and it's not yet clear how they will go.

"The situation must be carefully evaluated, now there’s a Champions League spot to secure, and the FA Cup final: Romelu is totally focused on that; we have not talked about anything else," his agent, Federico Pastorello, told the Gazzetta Dello Sport.

"It’s nonsense to speculate on negotiations: Chelsea have just defined the takeover of the club, so we still don’t know our new situation."

Tuchel responded to Pastorello's interview by joking: "If he plans to talk with the [new] owners, maybe it's not his plan [to talk] with me!

"But let's see if he can get a meeting. It's his right."

Lukaku may be the club's top scorer, on 15 goals, but there's no denying his first season back in west London has been underwhelming.

Tuchel, though, has already proven that he won't be influenced by anything other than tactical considerations, meaning he won't be afraid to disappoint Lukaku again if he feels Havertz is better equipped to help Chelsea end a difficult campaign on a high by beating Liverpool.