An imbalance caused, as ever, by a combination of factors, some but not all beyond their control, prompting Thomas Tuchel to rail against the damned system.
The fixture schedulers were in his sights. As were the Covid police with their arbitrary postponements and anyone stubbornly refusing to comply with his views on three subs.
Chelsea need Romelu Lukaku to deliver after his outburst about wanting to return to Inter Milan
Mike Dean copped it, as ever, although not as quickly as usual, and VAR. There was the bad luck, the injuries, positive tests.
All of which are instantly eclipsed when the £97.5million star striker goes a little bit rogue.
Tuchel addressed the Lukaku comments skilfully on Friday, accepting it was an unwelcome distraction at a sensitive time, ahead of a huge game, and that the 28-year-old ought to have known better.
He promised they would talk it over, while making his point about context and the trouble with soundbites clipped out of longer conversations, offering his player a measure of understanding.
Thomas Tuchel said Lukaku's comments were an unwelcome distraction at a sensitive time
There is absolutely no chance Chelsea will sell Lukaku this month or in the near future. Nor is there any clear indication that the Belgium international is desperate to get out in a hurry.
This cloud will linger, however, unless the goals flow for Lukaku because Chelsea have a history of statement signings gone wrong in the Roman Abramovich era.
It started with Andriy Shevchenko, continued with Fernando Torres and then on to Alvaro Morata. Timo Werner and Kai Havertz may, ultimately, fall into the same category.
Surely not Lukaku, as well. Not when he seemed such a sure thing, an intelligent footballer in his prime, with an understanding of the club and the Premier League.
Not when he arrived with such a bang, finding the net and reminding us all of the art of the big man up front. At Liverpool, in August, he was key to Chelsea earning a point despite playing with 10 men for half the game.
For a month, Lukaku excelled, then the goals dried up before an ankle injury in October.
Antonio Conte, his boss at Inter now at Tottenham, was working as a pundit on Italian TV when Juventus beat Chelsea in September and concluded Tuchel’s team had yet to figure out how to get the best from Lukaku.
Lukaku excelled initially after rejoining Chelsea but the goal dried up before he got injured
Injury ruled him out for a month and he started five of six games on the bench after his return. The only start was among fringe players in the Champions League dead-rubber at Zenit St Petersburg. This was the period when he spoke to Sky Sport Italia. Before testing positive for Covid and missing three games and another week of training, clearly feeling Tuchel had reverted to Havertz as his preferred central striker.
On Friday, the Chelsea boss flatly rejected this theory. Although, when asked in mid-December, he did admit his side generated more intensity without Lukaku, whom he thought was still feeling his ankle injury, protecting it in training and readjusting to English football after two years in Italy.
This is the full context of those comments about being ‘not happy’ with his situation at Chelsea, a segment of an interview in which he also said he did not want to leave Inter and would have stayed if they offered him a new deal.
Echoes here of Didier Drogba, who spent the first two years of his career in London openly pining for Marseille. Chelsea will hope this is the script unfolding. Not the waste-of-money one featuring Shevchenko, Torres and Morata.
By the time Lukaku had served seven days of isolation after Covid, Tuchel was desperately short of players and took him to Aston Villa on Boxing Day.
He was unleashed at half-time, tormented Villa, scored a goal, won a penalty. Three days later, he started against Brighton, scored again and for an hour looked fit and hungry.
‘Training, training, playing, training, playing, training, sleeping, eating good, training, playing, sleeping, eat good, drink a lot of water, sleep, train and don’t give interviews,’ smiled Tuchel, when asked on Friday if he really did know how to get the best from Lukaku.
It is evident that Lukaku and Tuchel need each other as Chelsea attempt to recover
Tom and Rom need each other. Maybe now more than ever as Chelsea try to recover and keep Manchester City in their sights as injuries stack up.
‘We are a very disappointed team, angry,’ said Tuchel. ‘It’s hard to take these results and stay positive because we know we can play better, but it’s not a matter of one click, obviously.
‘We have the feeling that we squeeze the lemon and squeeze the lemon but it’s like squeezing the same lemon over and over again and we expect to always get fresh juice out of it and it’s hard.
‘Sometimes it’s good to make the focus wider, look at what we did in 2021 and accept we are still going in the right direction.’
Tuchel is exploring the possibility of recalling left wing-back Emerson Palmieri, ‘a person we love’, as he said, who is on loan at Lyon. He has not yet considered recalling Billy Gilmour from his loan at Norwich.
‘You should not be naive,’ he added. ‘One win against Liverpool is always possible and always super hard. But the situation will catch us again. This will not go away with one win. But we will fight for the win.’
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