Paul Merson says Thomas Tuchel was wrong to drop Romelu Lukaku for Chelsea’s must-win game with Liverpool, despite the striker’s controversial interview.
In an interview with Sky in Italy that was recorded a few weeks ago but first aired last Thursday, Lukaku said he was unhappy with his role at the club and would like to return to Inter Milan in the near future.
The striker has since apologised publicly for his comments and is in contention to face Tottenham in the Carabao Cup semi-finals on Wednesday, but was omitted from the Chelsea squad altogether for their crunch title clash with Liverpool on Sunday.
The Blues came from 2-0 down to salvage a point in that game, but the two they dropped has left them 10 points behind leaders Manchester City and needing a shock reversal of fortunes to reignite their title challenge.
Sky Sports pundit Merson explains why he was unimpressed with Tuchel’s decision to isolate Chelsea’s record signing for such an important game – and looks ahead to a huge London derby as Antonio Conte makes his first return to Stamford Bridge, live on Sky Sports Football.
‘Lukaku should have played in Chelsea’s biggest game of season’
When asked if the handling of the Lukaku situation was a victory for Tuchel, Merson said: “No, not really. Why would it be a victory?
“Chelsea had to beat Liverpool to have any chance of winning the Premier League. They had to beat Liverpool and then Manchester City in their next game to have any chance, but for me, he’s chopped his nose off to spite his face.
“Lukaku is going to play for Chelsea again so why not play him against Liverpool? It’s not like he’s never going to play for Chelsea again. If that was the case and he’s not going to play for Chelsea again, then I could understand it, but if not, why do it?
“You are better off throwing him to the wolves and playing him, in my opinion. If he then doesn’t play well, the Chelsea fans will soon let him know. I’d have gone that way, personally.
“It’s been far too easy for Lukaku. He’s said what he wanted to say, he’s been dropped, will come back for a lesser game than Liverpool and everything will be alright.
“Tuchel should have played him against Liverpool. It was the biggest game of the season for Chelsea.”
‘Fightback saved Tuchel from mayhem’
“I don’t get all the debate around this. All the talk of ‘Tuchel did the right thing’ and you can’t do this or that. Why? They are paying Lukaku £300,000-a-week. He needs to play in the biggest games.
“If he’s never going to play for the club again, I get it. Throw him out of the club if he doesn’t want to be there and he wants to be at inter Milan. I can understand that. However, he is going to play for Chelsea again.
“They’ve dropped him for a game they had to win to have any chance of winning the title.
“It’s only the fact Chelsea came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 that there is not absolute mayhem. The result, in the end, papered over the decision to leave Lukaku out.”
Tuchel should have played Lukaku against Liverpool. It was the biggest game of the season for Chelsea.
‘What Lukaku said was a disgrace, but Chelsea needed to beat Liverpool’
“I think he deserved a massive fine and from there, you get him out on the pitch. You let the fans make their mind up. The manager will be long gone before the fans go, so let the fans make their own mind up.
“They’ll let him know. Don’t worry about that. If Lukaku doesn’t pull his weight, he’ll know about it and as a player, you don’t want that. However, what happened was just easy, sitting out of the biggest game and not facing the best centre-half in the world.
“What are Chelsea getting out of him when he’s left out? Lukaku shouldn’t have said what he said. It was a disgrace, but at the same time, they had to win that football match against Liverpool.
“They just bought Lukaku for £90m. He is the marquee signing. They bought him for these kinds of games, the big games. They bought him to face Liverpool, not Brighton at home. It was the easy option to leave him out and I bet Lukaku couldn’t believe his luck. He needed a trial by the fans.
“Chelsea had to go and beat Liverpool and then Man City to have the slightest of chances of winning the title. Now, I’d be shocked if they went and won it from here.
“That’s why they needed to play Lukaku. They needed him and they needed to win that game.
“Don’t forget this video interview was three weeks ago. It wasn’t done yesterday. It was a long time ago and not done on the eve of the game.”
‘Spurs game huge for Chelsea and Tuchel’
“The Spurs game is now a very big game for Chelsea.
“It’s now their biggest game of the season, especially because of the rivalry between these two teams. Chelsea vs Tottenham is a big football match if it is a friendly. You put it into a semi-final over two legs with packed houses, it is huge. You cannot start resting players for this game.
“Throw in Antonio Conte’s return to Stamford Bridge and you spice this game up even further. It’s a massive football match.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity to win a trophy.”
‘It’s a must-win game for Tuchel; Huge opportunity for Spurs too’
“Thomas Tuchel has to win this game.
“He’s not under pressure because of the Champions League win but let’s remember, if Man City go and beat Chelsea next week, all of a sudden Chelsea are a million points behind them.
“You cannot be that many points behind when you’ve built a team that strong, and you’ve bought a centre-forward for £90m. It’s massive for Tottenham as well. When was the last time they won anything? It was a long time ago.
“It’s a massive opportunity. Imagine if Spurs went on to win the cup from where they were. It’s a huge chance for all the teams left in the competition.
“Chelsea could be out of the title race once and for all next week, if they aren’t already. However, all of a sudden, if you have a final to look forward to, it just takes the pressure off.”
How to follow Chelsea vs Tottenham on Sky Sports…
Chelsea vs Tottenham is live on Sky Sports Football from 7pm; kick-off 7.45pm. Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app.
Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after the final whistle.