Paul Merson has claimed that Thomas Tuchel’s decision to drop Romelu Lukaku has cost Chelsea the Premier League title.
Lukaku was not involved in the Blues’ matchday squad against Liverpool last week after the striker expressed his discontent with his current situation at Chelsea and his desire to return to Inter Milan in a controversial interview.
He said: “I’m not happy with the situation at Chelsea. Tuchel has chosen to play with another system – but I am professional – and I can’t give up now.
“Now it’s the right time to share my feelings. I have always said that I have Inter in my heart: I know I will return to Inter, I really hope so. I am in love with Italy, this is right moment to talk and let people know what really happened.”
His comments prompted outrage amongst Chelsea fans, and Tuchel responded by dropping the Belgian entirely for the crucial match against Liverpool which ended 2-2.
But that game was a must-win for the Blues, who are now 10 points behind league leaders Manchester City, with many now claiming that the title race is already done and dusted.
That is a view shared by Merson, who, in his column for the Daily Star, claimed that Tuchel should have let Lukaku play.
He wrote: “Thomas Tuchel has already blown the title by dropping him [Lukaku] against Liverpool.
“They had to win that game to have any chance of chasing down Manchester City. Now they’re 10 points behind and Liverpool are still right behind them.
“People say Tuchel was right to drop him. But you know he’s not bombing him out of the club, so why drop him for your most important game of the season.”
Lukaku returned to the Chelsea starting XI for the club’s most recent match, the 2-0 win over Spurs in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg, prompting Merson to question Tuchel’s decision to drop the 28-year-old in the first place.
“It makes no sense. It’s biting off your nose to spite your face,” he continued.
“I thought he’d showed a lot of balls playing against Spurs. I think he did alright. Lukaku is one of those players who needs an arm around his shoulder, and I don’t think Tuchel is showing him enough love.”
Lukaku became Chelsea’s record signing when he returned to Stamford Bridge in a £97.5million deal, but he has not quite justified that fee thus far, scoring a respectable but underwhelming seven goals in 19 appearances in all competitions amid a number of injury problems.
But in spite of that, Merson believes Lukaku can re-find his shooting boots and fire Chelsea to victory in other competitions.
“Romelu Lukaku will win something for Chelsea this season,” he wrote.
“Lukaku will play every game now. It will all be forgotten. And he will score goals. He’s a great striker. They will win something this season because his goals will carry them.
“Chelsea are a better team with him in it, so for me he has to play every week now, and I think he will.”