The look that says it ALL: Romelu Lukaku's deadpan stare on the Chelsea bench against Everton symbolised his miserable return... Thomas Tuchel no longer trusts his £98m striker and he appears destined for the exit (again!)

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At the back end of a truly miserable season, Romelu Lukaku perhaps sunk to the nadir of his unharmonious Chelsea return at Goodison Park on Sunday.

With just over 20 minutes remaining and the Blues trailing Everton 1-0, Thomas Tuchel introduced his final two substitutes while in search of a late goal, throwing on wide forwards Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech with his last roll of the dice. 

And the double change meant Lukaku, Chelsea's record £98million signing, was surplus to requirements. 

Romelu Lukaku's stare after being left on the bench vs Everton symbolised his Chelsea woes

Romelu Lukaku's stare after being left on the bench vs Everton symbolised his Chelsea woes

Romelu Lukaku's stare after being left on the bench vs Everton symbolised his Chelsea woes

Lukaku has struggled in his first season back at Chelsea and is now playing a bit-part role

Lukaku has struggled in his first season back at Chelsea and is now playing a bit-part role

Following Tuchel's snub, TV cameras cut to a deadpan Lukaku on the bench and his stony stare straight down the lens pretty much symbolised his anti-climatic second Blues stint. If looks could kill.

The Belgian arrived back at Stamford Bridge last summer with a justified swagger after inspiring Inter Milan to the Serie A title. His return, seven years after leaving to join Everton permanently, was heralded as Tuchel landing the final piece of his Chelsea jigsaw. The piece that could make them Premier League champions.

Nine months on, with just five goals to show for 23 appearances in the league, it's fair to say that billing was very far from the truth.

Instead, after being brought back to play a lead role Lukaku now finds himself as a bit-part player in west London. Only one of his last nine appearances was a start, and he is without a Premier League goal in 2022. 

It has been a rocky season on the whole for the 28-year-old, who made headlines for all the wrong reasons when he hit out at Tuchel and hinted at a potential return to Inter in a bombshell interview with Sky Italia at the end of December. Before that his form had already began to suffer, scoring just two goals in close to four months amid injury problems, and he is still yet to find the back of the net in the league since.

The £98million striker has clearly lost the faith of Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel this term

The £98million striker has clearly lost the faith of Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel this term

He has failed to score a Premier League goal since his controversial Sky Italia interview

He has failed to score a Premier League goal since his controversial Sky Italia interview

Lukaku hit out at Tuchel and hinted at a potential return to Inter Milan at the end of December

Lukaku hit out at Tuchel and hinted at a potential return to Inter Milan at the end of December

His form in front of goal has suffered since the interview, with no league goal to show for 2022

His form in front of goal has suffered since the interview, with no league goal to show for 2022

Nevertheless, despite his explosive comments Tuchel stuck with Lukaku over the next two months - albeit having dropped him entirely for their first match after the controversy against Liverpool. He got the nod in their next four league games afterwards, yet no goal contributions in those outings clearly swayed Tuchel's thinking.

Kai Havertz replaced him at the pinpoint of Chelsea's attack and scored eight goals in 12 appearances to justify his inclusion, as well as Lukaku's exclusion. From there, Tuchel has been set on deploying the German as a false nine, which in recent shortcomings has not gone to plan.

Havertz spurned glorious opportunities in Thursday's 1-1 draw at Manchester United and lost his head at Everton. It speaks volumes that Tuchel decided to stick with him until the very end of Sunday's defeat and leave Lukaku on the bench.

It has been clear for months on end that the latter's strengths are not utilised in Chelsea's current system. During one of his last league starts away at Crystal Palace, Lukaku broke the record for the fewest touches recorded by an outfield player in a Premier League game with a measly seven. If the Everton snub wasn't his lowest moment in a Chelsea shirt, that was.

Too often he goes unnoticed as the focal point of Tuchel's attack, although it must be noted he is not always blame. His Blues team-mates sometimes appear reluctant to feed him when he makes a run in behind, a noticeable tendency which Tuchel should have addressed long ago. As a result, he is left isolated and neglected upfront.

Tuchel has instead preferred Kai Havertz as a false nine in attack over the past few months

Tuchel has instead preferred Kai Havertz as a false nine in attack over the past few months

The Chelsea boss now doesn't even see Lukaku as a credible option to bring off the bench

The Chelsea boss now doesn't even see Lukaku as a credible option to bring off the bench

There are many factors contributing to Lukaku's decline in SW6; his form has been nowhere near good enough, the Sky Italia interview didn't help, Tuchel could surely do more to bring out the best of him and his team-mates could too. However, regardless of all those facets, it is tough to see a way back for Lukaku at Chelsea.

What should have been a match made in heaven has turned out to be the marriage from hell, which makes it paramount for the club's prospective new owner to offload him in the summer.

By leaving him on the bench at Goodison, Tuchel made it clear once again that Lukaku is not in his thinking right now - even as a late, desperate substitution. Unless that changes dramatically between now and the end of the season, Blues officials will surely cut their losses, find him a new club and relieve themselves of his £325,000-a-week wages.

They will not receive anywhere near the record fee spent on him last August, though moving Lukaku on will free up space for potential attacking recruits this summer. 

If that plays out as expected, Tuchel needs to ensure the next centre-forward is the right one and get them firing on all cylinders. Last season he turned his nose up at Tammy Abraham, who is now thriving at Roma, and Lukaku has gone from one of Europe's most prolific strikers to a struggling outcast under his management.

It may be an expensive one, but a second divorce is inevitable for Chelsea and Lukaku come the end of the season. 

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