John Brewin: Lukaku can justify Chelsea place and sign off on Roman era with Wembley goal

Thomas Tuchel’s side face Liverpool in the FA Cup showpiece tomorrow evening.

Image: PA

IT FELT A little premature, and perhaps a little inappropriate given he had just scored the third, late goal against a demoralised Leeds on Wednesday, but Romelu Lukaku ran to Sky’s camera to announce: “I’m back”.

Chelsea’s £100m misfit prodigal son might have been better advised to save those words for Saturday, and Wembley, where an FA Cup final goal against Liverpool could do much to rescue what has been a near-disastrous return to the club for the striker.

Only near disastrous? There have been some mitigating circumstances for the Belgian in the form of untimely injuries and the sense he was bought against Thomas Tuchel’s judgement though Lukaku has also struggled to adapt to the German’’s style of play.

A year ago, similar questions were raised against Kai Havertz, only for his Champions League final winner to announce why Chelsea had paid over £70m for the German. Goals in big cup finals can forge a reputation, allow fans to forgive other foibles though in the case of the FA Cup, there is an unfortunate question over whether the competition matters as much as it once did.

Allan “Sniffer” Clarke for Leeds in 1972, Alan Sunderland for Arsenal in 1979, Norman Whiteside for Manchester United in 1985, Lawrie Sanchez for Wimbledon in 1988, all names to stir memories from a time when the FA Cup final stopped a nation and the sun always shone on the afternoon itself. And the UK TV audience was meanwhile told, perhaps erroneously, that billions around the world were also tuned in.

Do the names of Jesse Lingard, Eden Hazard, Aaron Ramsey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Youri Tielemans, all scorers of winning goals in FA Cup finals in recent years, resonate in quite the same way? The simple truth is that they don’t, since the Premier League and Champions League have eaten all before them, such that finishing fourth in England’s top division and then qualifying for Europe’s top competition is seen as far more of a prize, and particularly in the boardroom.

Roman Abramovich sacked Antonio Conte in the summer of 2018 despite winning the FA Cup, Chelsea having slipped to fifth in the table but under the Russian the club now owned by the consortium led by Todd Boehly, will have featured in nine finals since 2007 come Saturday, winning four and losing four finals. Chelsea fans have come to look on Wembley as a second home while Liverpool, whose fans used to term the national stadium “Anfield South” have only this season started returning for cup finals. Previously, mindful of a small squad, Jurgen Klopp usually used domestic cup competitions for reserve and younger players, but this season has seen him show more confidence in his first team’s ability to deal with a greater burden.

Sadly for those in Ireland, Caoimhin Kelleher is unlikely to be able to repeat his Carabao Cup final heroics. Klopp has preferred Alisson in goals since the quarter-final with Nottingham Forest, but Liverpool may be a little patched up at Wembley. The departure of Fabinho from Tuesday’s win at Aston Villa looks to have robbed Liverpool of their midfield lynchpin, and the partnership the Brazilian had struck up with Thiago.

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Chelsea too may have a couple of knocks to deal with Matteo Kovacic taking a bruising – at best – hit to the ankle from Dan James’ red-card tackle at Leeds, but with a top-four place just about secured for next season, Tuchel has been able to focus a little more on Wembley than Klopp, who has been preoccupied by chasing Manchester City for the title and reaching the Champions League final.

Boehly and co’s purchase of Chelsea has also bought Tuchel a little more grace than he might have enjoyed under Abramovich, who was always ruthless with managers when key objectives were missed. No sudden movements are expected from the new regime. Tuchel is popular among the club’s fans, and his team’s inability to keep pace with City and Liverpool can be attributed in some way to the uncertainty surrounding the club since Abramovich was sanctioned. With Antonio Rudiger set for Real Madrid and the futures of a few other uncertain, Wembley is something of a last stand for the team Abramovich bought and paid for.

A decisive goal from Lukaku, twice signed during the Russian’s ownership, still yet to have lived up to the hype, might be a fitting way to sign off an era that transformed Chelsea, and English football, too.

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