Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel revealed he took the decision to withdraw Romelu Lukaku, after the striker’s midweek comments had created too much of a distraction.
The Belgian striker was dropped from the Blues squad to face Liverpool in a title race decider on Sunday following his inflammatory interview with Sky Sports Italia.
The 28-year-old announced he was unhappy with his role in Tuchel’s system at Stamford Bridge and stated that he would like to return to Inter Milan in the near future.
Lukaku’s comments lead to the Blues boss’s decision against calling on him for the crunch clash against Liverpool.
The German defended his decision explaining that the Belgium international’s comments had caused too much noise which affected his side’s preparation for the Premier League game.
‘It became too noisy, and so close to the match,’ Tuchel told Chelsea’s 5th Stand app.
‘So I decided to protect the preparation of the match and that is why he is out.
‘Of course we have spoken, we have spoken twice and he has spoken to the lead players.
‘And after that we had to realise it’s too close to the match and it’s too big.
‘We need to protect the preparation of the match.
‘We have a big match to play and we need full focus, which is anyway hard to get even with this decision but it is, in my opinion, easier.
‘For sure it was a difficult decision to take but in my opinion it is the one to take.’
During his interview, Lukaku, who returned to Stamford Bridge from Inter on a £98million transfer last summer, stated that he was not satisfied with how things are going for him at present.
‘Physically I am fine. But I’m not happy with the situation at Chelsea,’ he said.
‘Tuchel has chosen to play with another system – I won’t give up, I’ll be professional. I am not happy with the situation but I am professional – and I can’t give up now.’
He added: ‘I really, genuinely from the bottom of my heart hope to come back to Inter, not at the end of my career, but while I am still at the level to win more trophies.’
Ahead of the game, former Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink backed Tuchel’s decision as the team as a whole is more important.
Hasselbaink told Sky Sports: ‘It’s the right decision for him. Obviously it was important to leave Lukaku out.
‘Interesting he said he has spoken to the important figures in the dressing room and came to conclusion to leave him out as it was too close to the match.
‘End of the day the whole group is more important than one individual.’
Co-pundit Graeme Souness agreed with Hasselbaink’s claims, insisting that the Blues boss needed to protect his own position.
‘You want your best players available especially the big games,’ he said. ‘But he [Tuchel] needs to protect is his own position going forward.
‘Going forward, players in the dressing room will know he’s not messing around.
‘Can’t go around saying what Lukaku has said expecting to be welcomed back by management staff and his team-mates.
‘He’s definitely done right thing for his welfare as being the coach of this club and protects his position going forward.’
The former Liverpool midfielder also revealed he was left baffled by Lukaku’s interview and insisted it had damaged the club.
‘Lukaku is a fabulous player but why he’s throwing this stuff out a couple of days before arguably the most important game in the PL this season,’ Souness said.
‘It’s damaged everyone. If they don’t win this today, I expect focus to go back on Lukaku and this is what you achieved, you created turmoil when we are looking for stability and togetherness. It totally baffles me.’
Chelsea headed into the fixture against Liverpool nine points behind leaders Manchester City, who have played a game more. Liverpool, meanwhile, were just one point behind Chelsea and have a game in hand.