Football: Not the time to make jokes about Lukaku, says Chelsea manager Tuchel

Romelu Lukaku has scored five goals in 17 league games this season, raising questions over his hefty price tag. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON (REUTERS) - Chelsea will try to protect and get more out of record signing Romelu Lukaku after the Belgium international striker again underperformed in their last game, manager Thomas Tuchel said on Monday (Feb 21).

Lukaku had seven touches, including one from the kick-off, against Crystal Palace in Saturday's 1-0 English Premier League win - a record for the fewest involvements in a single Premier League match by a player who has completed the full game.

The 28-year-old has scored five goals in 17 league games this season, raising questions over his hefty price tag and if he fits in Tuchel's system at Chelsea.

"What can I do? I don't know. Well, now we have to deal with it," Tuchel told reporters ahead of the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie at home to Lille on Tuesday.

"The data is out there and the data speaks a certain language, so he was not involved in our game. It sometimes (happens) like this with strikers if they struggle with self-confidence or to find the space and get involved against a good defensive team.

"It's of course not what we want or Romelu wants. But it's also not the time to laugh about him and make jokes about him.

"He is in the spotlight of course and we will protect him because he is our player."

The German also said defender Cesar Azpilicueta will likely feature in Tuesday's match but winger Callum Hudson-Odoi and midfielder Mason Mount are still doubtful.

Azpilicueta had returned to training after suffering a groin problem, while Mount could train later on Monday as he recovers from a ligament issue. Hudson-Odoi had inflammation in his Achilles.

"Azpi looks much better than Callum. Callum did not train yesterday, Azpi trained and has no reaction so if it stays like this he is available for tomorrow," Tuchel said.

"Mason did a very good individual session, I think he will try to come back to team training today but he was out a little bit too long to start. Perhaps he is involved in the squad, he has not trained with the team yet."

Chelsea won the Champions League last season after beating Manchester City in the final.

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