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Anonymous Lukaku bailed out by Alonso and Kepa as Chelsea avoid Plymouth upset

11:00 AM EST 2/5/22
Marcos Alonso Chelsea Plymouth FA Cup 2021-22
The Blues' record signing managed just two shots during a lucky 2-1 victory over League One opposition at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon

Chelsea 2-1 Plymouth: Match Statistics

Chelsea needed an extra-time winner from Marcos Alonso and a late Kepa Arrizabalaga penalty save to rescue them from a potential FA Cup fourth-round exit at the hands of Plymouth Argyle on Saturday afternoon.

A home game against League One opposition looked like a favourable draw for the Blues, a straightforward assignment ahead of their departure for the Club World Cup.

However, it proved anything but easy.

Thomas Tuchel may have been missing after testing positive for Covid-19 but Chelsea fielded a full-strength side at Stamford Bridge, with record signing Romelu Lukaku leading the line after a much-needed winter break.

However, the £98 million ($136m) man toiled against opposition many would have expected him to dominate.

It was just the latest in a series of worryingly poor performances since Lukaku's unsanctioned and controversial interview with Sky Sport Italia.

Ultimately, the Belgian was bailed out here by two of the Blues' full-backs, with Cesar Azpilicueta cancelling out Macaulay Gillesphey's shock opener before Marcos Alonso came off the bench to net a 105th-minute winner.

Even then, Plymouth could have forced penalties but Kepa Arrizabalaga saved a spot-kick from Plymouth striker Ryan Hardie with just three minutes of extra time to play.

Both Alonso and Kepa will make headlines for their interventions but much of the post-match focus will undoubtedly fall on Lukaku, who was anonymous for the most part, failing miserably to display any of the attributes that convinced Chelsea to re-sign their former forward over the summer.

He never truly threatened to score despite spending all 120 minutes on the field and his contribution was best summed up by a horribly overhit pass to Timo Werner in the final minute of normal time.

He ended the match with just two shots to his name and, even more tellingly, having made only 13 touches in the box.

This latest blank means that he has now gone five games without a goal and he has only netted against non-league Chesterfield in the third round of the FA Cup since being forced to apologise for the Sky interview.

It must be said, though, that he wasn’t the only poor performer against Plymouth. The entire team struggled in the first half despite having had a week to prepare for the game after having the previous week off.

Callum Hudson-Odoi was substituted early, Kai Havertz made little impact in his place and the likes of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Mason Mount all failed to truly impose themselves on the game.

However, Lukaku remains the biggest issue to resolve in an attack that isn’t clicking.

He has had regular minutes and been given a host of different formations to play in, but he continues to flatter to deceive.

His poor performances are becoming a major problem for Tuchel.

Having not found it easy to work with either Neymar or Kylian Mbappe in his last job at Paris Saint-Germain, the German desperately needs to find a way to get the very best out of Lukaku.

Indeed, watching on from home, Tuchel will have felt the same sense of frustration that everyone else in the stadium was experiencing while watching Chelsea's misfiring forward.

The Blues boss will know his team's hopes of success this season hinge upon him getting Lukaku scoring goals again because he can't keep relying on full-backs and goalkeepers to get his side out of jail.