Lukaku returns from the cold against calamitous Tottenham - player ratings and analysis

by 24britishtvJan. 6, 2022, 8 a.m. 18
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STAMFORD BRIDGE – Antonio Conte knows a thing or two about quarrelsome Chelsea strikers, so he will be able to sympathise with the week Thomas Tuchel has just had with Romelu Lukaku. During his own reign at Stamford Bridge, Conte once informed Diego Costa that he was being sold by sending him a text message during his holidays. For the Blues’ latest iteration of the prodigal striker, there is at least likely to be a happy ending this time around. Lukaku is back, and at the expense of the Tottenham fans, he had the last laugh.

There was nothing subtle about the grin on his face as he shushed the away end in the aftermath of Ben Davies’ farcical own goal. Lukaku, as his manager has learned the hard way, is happy to make his feelings known, this time his delight at returning to the fold even as questions remain over exactly how he fits into this ever-morphing Chelsea attack.

Having dropped the 28-year-old for the 2-2 draw against Liverpool, Tuchel was able to restore him for the semi-final first leg courtesy of a look-to-camera apology interview. “My captors are treating me well, please give in to their demands.” It was enough to see him regain his place – that and a decidedly underwhelming performance from Kai Havertz on Sunday.

Even as Lukaku stumbled to just four touches in the opening half hour – fewer than any other player on the pitch – his role became more clearly defined. With the No. 9 occupying the central role and drifting out to the right, Havertz was able to drop into the channel behind him, hurrying Japhet Tanganga to such effect with just five minutes on the clock that the Spurs defender played a panicked short pass that left Emerson Royal in trouble. Marcos Alonso intercepted, Havertz was on his way, and Davinson Sanchez did the rest, taking a final touch as the ball bundled in.

Chelsea need not have purchased a £97.5m striker if every opposing defence had such capacity for the farcical as Spurs when they really get going. Lukaku had nothing to do with the second goal, Tanganga heading Hakim Ziyech’s free-kick onto the shoulder of Davies, who could only watch as it bounced past Hugo Lloris. The Blues’ record signing revelled in his teammates jubilation nonetheless, as he mocked the Tottenham fans who had taunted him with chants of “Romelu Lukaku, he’s Inter Milan”.

His best opportunity came as a free header floated in from Ziyech but he only made enough contact to send it skidding past the near post. Cesar Azpilicueta couldn’t connect for a similar opportunity which might have allowed Lukaku an assist. When Havertz was replaced with Timo Werner at half-time, he benefited too. Lukaku occupied Davies, while the Germany international was allowed a run at goal. On another occasion, he flicked away Sanchez to allow Ziyech a clear path to find Werner, who was denied by the palms of Lloris.

Matt Doherty, on the left where he has impressed for the Republic of Ireland, had been similarly fruitless in his efforts to contain him. The full-back did his best to shepherd Lukaku out of play and helped him into the advertising boards but was otherwise outpaced and outfought.

While it wasn’t the emphatic, point-scoring performance to make his manager think twice about ever irking him again, it didn’t need to be. For now Chelsea’s talisman is back in from the cold and their attack looks all the more coherent for it.

Chelsea vs Tottenham – as it happened

Antonio Conte suffered a painful return to Stamford Bridge as the Tottenham manager was forced to watch his outplayed side gift his former club the two goals that puts Chelsea firmly in control ahead at the halfway stage of their Carabao Cup semi-final.

The pre-match focus was on the impact Romelu Lukaku might have on his return to the Chelsea line-up after being dropped following his ill-advised interview last week. As it was, the worst of the damage was done by Conte’s own players.

Japhet Tanganga’s mistake allowed Kai Havertz to score an early opener before the Spurs centre-back clearing header rebounded in off team-mate Ben Davies for the home side’s second.

The only consolation for Conte, who was dismissed by Chelsea in 2018, was that Chelsea’s margin of victory was not even greater.

While Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel could draw satisfaction from his side’s dominant display, Conte’s knows he must engineer a dramatic improvement are to work their way back into this tie in next week’s second leg.

The opening period made for painful viewing for Conte. Tuchel had made six changes to his starting line-up with two of those enforced after N’Golo Kante and Thiago Silva became the latest Chelsea players to test positive for coronavirus.

The absentees prompted the manager to switch formation and employ a back four but there were no signs of his side being affected by the changes as Lukaku quickly tested the visitors with a powerful run that set the tone for the Chelsea’s high-tempo start to the game.

Tottenham immediately appeared uncomfortable and uncertain and, having endured a testing five minutes, they gifted Chelsea the chance to establish a fifth minute lead when Tanganga attempted to play the ball out to Emerson Royal. His pass lacked conviction though, and allowed Marcos Alonso to move ahead of the wing-back to win possession deep in the Tottenham half.

A quick ball to Havertz sent the forward clear before the Germany international placed his shot wide of Hugo Lloris with Spurs centre-back Davinson Sanchez helping the goal-bound shot into the net.

It was a woeful start for Conte’s side who were fortunate to escape when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s scuffed clearance fell into Havertz who was denied on this occasion by Lloris.

Chelsea were utterly dominant with Tottenham unable to establish any kind of momentum of their own.Tuchel’s side were more determined in all areas of the pitch and might have added a second when Hakim Ziyech directed a long-range effort over the bar.

That proved to be only a temporary reprieve, however, with the second goal eventually coming in the 34th minute after another error by Tangana. On this occasion the defender attempted to clear after Ziyech whipped in free-kick but succeeded only in directing his header against team-mate Davies who could do nothing to prevent the ball rebounding into his own net.

And Tottenham might have reached the interval in even deeper trouble had Lukaku not directed a header narrowly wide after outjumping Sanchez.

While Chelsea registered 10 attempts on goal in the first half, Spurs failed to manage a single shot and Conte attempted to provide his side with the means to establish a foothold in the game by switching to a back four and introducing Tanguy Ndombele to strengthen the midfield.

The initial signs for the visitors were promising with Harry Kane finally drawing Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga into action with a well hit free-kick four minutes into the second period.

Tuchel revealed Havertz completed the first half “playing through the pain” after suffering a suspected broken finger, with “the pain getting worse with every movement”.

Azpilicueta pulled up with what his manager said “we hope is only a cramp, not an injury” as a worsening injury crisis added a sour note to what was an overwhelmingly positive night for the hosts.

Tuchel was also full of praise for Lukaku following their well-publicised disagreement ahead of the Liverpool game.

“I’m happy with the performance, I like how he played he was strong… he showed huge commitment in our defensive work.

“I expected it, honestly, because Romelu can handle pressure and adversity. He seemed to be relaxed after the decision was made and after we finished our talk and knew what’s going on.”

Conte could not have envisaged a more disheartening return but at least it comes at the beginning of January – a month when he will be striving to convince Daniel Levy to invest.

“Everyone has to have patience,” he told Sky Sports in his post-match interview. “In the last years at Tottenham the level has dropped a lot.

“I am always very honest with my players. Today Chelsea were much better. There is a lot of work to do at Spurs. We need time.”

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