Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel has defended Romelu Lukaku following criticism over his performance against Crystal Palace.

Following a difficult start to the year, Chelsea have managed to recover somewhat, thanks to a couple of wins against London rivals. Their most recent victory came against Crystal Palace, with the 1-0 result away from home helping them remain on course for a Champions League finish.

However, the narrow win at Selhurst Park has driven in all kinds of criticism on the Chelsea frontline. Romelu Lukaku, in particular, has been questioned over his lack of involvement in the game, with the striker only mustering seven touches throughout the ninety minutes. He was not involved enough, and the Blues were rather lucky to grab all three points, thanks to a late winner from Hakim Ziyech.

After making a big money move from Inter Milan in the summer, Lukaku’s struggles at Chelsea have already been well documented. His interview with Sky Italia regarding a potential return to Inter even caused a slight rift with coach Thomas Tuchel in the past, with the Chelsea manager criticising the striker over his comments.

However, speaking to the media ahead of Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League game against Lille, Tuchel has come to the support of Lukaku following criticism of his performance against Crystal Palace.

“We have to deal with it. There is data out there and the data speaks a certain language. He was not involved in our game [against Palace], sometimes it’s like this with strikers if they struggle a bit with self-confidence or to find the space and get involved against a good defensive side,” said Tuchel, as quoted by Chelsea’s official website.

“It’s not what we want and not what Romelu wants but it’s not the time to laugh about him and make jokes. He is in the spotlight and we will protect him because he’s our player,” Tuchel added.

The German manager went on to suggest that the absence of star players such as Reece James and Ben Chilwell is also affecting his performance while taking it upon himself to fix the Belgian’s scoring woes.

“We played the majority of our games in a back three with wing-backs, and two of the key wing-backs are Reece and Chilly, who got injured at their peak level. They had a huge impact on our game offensively and defensively regarding Romelu with their runs, speed, penetration and their deliveries.”

“We are not the only team where players have this huge impact and in the formation that we play, the wing-backs are in a crucial position to influence the game but still we can also play and win games without any player. This is our job and this is what we try to do when we have injuries or coronavirus cases. It’s on me to adapt and find solutions and Romelu will always be part of the solution.”

Since rejoining Chelsea last summer, Lukaku has scored only five goals in the Premier League, three of which have come in the first three matches. The Belgian struggled with injury and COVID-19 for a brief period while also attracting the spotlight due to his comments about the club. As we head towards the business end of the campaign, it will be interesting to see if he can finally showcase his talents, especially with Paris Saint-Germain closely monitoring his situation at Stamford Bridge.

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