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Crisis averted: Chelsea boss Tuchel masterfully managed Lukaku controversy

12:13 GMT+3 06/01/2022
Thomas Tuchel
The Belgian striker caused chaos by criticising his manager's tactics last week but the German has already restored order at Stamford Bridge

Thomas Tuchel has masterfully guided Chelsea out of the storm created by Romelu Lukaku's unsanctioned Sky Sport Italia interview.

After bravely dropping the Belgian for Sunday's Premier League clash with Liverpool, and seeing his players respond with a spirited showing in a dramatic 2-2 draw, the German manager held talks with Lukaku that ended with the striker making a public apology for his untimely criticism.

On Wednesday night, Tuchel recalled the former Inter striker to his starting line-up for what proved another show of strength from the Blues boss, who masterminded a 2-0 victory over in-form Tottenham in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final.

Kai Havertz opened the scoring at Stamford Bridge with a close-range strike early on and Japhet Tanganga headed into Ben Davies to leave Spurs with a mountain to climb ahead of next Tuesday's return fixture in north London.

While Antonio Conte was returning to Chelsea as an opposition manager for the first time since parting company with the Blues in 2018, the build-up to the tie unsurprisingly focused on Lukaku, both in terms of how he would respond to the controversy caused by his interview, and whether the fans would be quick to forgive his actions.

Tuchel, for his part, had called on the fans to stick with their No.9 and fully support the team.

As it transpired, the supporters neither cheered nor booed Lukaku's name when the teams were read out just before kick-off and, in truth, he wasn't a protagonist in a game that Chelsea dominated.

Of all the players to complete 90 minutes, he had the fewest touches and wasted a host of chances to shoot or play a decisive final ball.

He flashed a decent header wide in the first half, before squandering an excellent opening late on when he shot directly at Hugo Lloris.

In short, Lukaku was one of the main reasons why Chelsea didn't win by a bigger margin.

Tuchel's pivot to a 4-4-2 for the first time since taking over last year took Conte by surprise but it was entirely enforced.

Both N'Golo Kante and Thiago Silva tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of kick-off and with Andreas Christensen, Reece James, Trevoh Chalobah and Ben Chilwell having already been ruled out, Tuchel simply had to play with one less central defender than usual.

"Thiago and N'Golo were both supposed to start," the former Paris Saint-Germain coach explained in his post match press conference. "We decided yesterday (Tuesday) at the last minute to switch to a back four and the guys were very committed and focused in order to play how we played.

"It was good and it is not always fair to demand performances out of nothing, like from Hakim [Ziyech], Saul and Malang [Sarr].

"All three were outstanding today. It makes us very happy because it was a well-deserved win against a strong opponent."

It was certainly an impressive performance.

Because of the new system, Chelsea were entering unknown territory under Tuchel but, just as they had against Liverpool, the players responded admirably to adversity, showing that they can add another formation to their repertoire.

It was a near-perfect display from the hosts, with only their finishing letting them down, and for Tuchel, it offered further validation of his tactical acumen, not to mention his man-management.

After a poor run of results, followed by the Lukaku interview, Chelsea and their manager could easily have been overwhelmed by another crisis.

Conte and many other former Chelsea managers have previously lost their jobs during times of acrimony and intense pressure.

Tuchel, though, has handled a tricky situation masterfully, inspiring two positive performances against two top teams.

He has learned that he has the full support of his employers, with both Petr Cech and Marina Granovskaia backing his handling of Lukaku.

It's now been made clear that the Belgium international now only has one option available to him: get his head down and train hard.

Lukaku has accepted that he has created this mess himself and is now determined to win back the trust of the fans.

Seeing that, Tuchel wisely decided against making more out of the episode than was necessary. He may have exerted his authority but it was telling that he was quick to praise Lukaku after the game for his industry and endeavour.

"He was strong, involved, strong and showed huge commitment in our defensive work, which was important," Tuchel told reporters.

"He was always dangerous and used his body well. He was always involved in dangerous situations.

"I expected it honestly because Romelu can handle pressure and adversity. He seemed to be relaxed after the decision was made, after we finished our talks, and after he finished his talks.

"The decision was made and I felt he was relaxed enough to turn in a performance like this."

Tuchel can forgive a couple of poor performances from a player. But he expects nothing less than 100 per cent in terms of effort and professionalism.

Lukaku has now learned that the hard way. But he and Chelsea could be all the better for it.

Tuchel hasn't just restored order at Stamford Bridge. He's also got his team's season back on track.