Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel says he avoided using Romelu Lukaku in their 2-0 Champions League last-16 first leg win over Lille because the striker was already under too much scrutiny.
The Belgium international, who has fallen short of expectations since returning to the club when he signed from Inter Milan last summer, was an unused substitute at Stamford Bridge after he was criticised for his performance in Saturday’s victory over Crystal Palace.
Lukaku touched the ball just seven times in that match, which according to statisticians Opta is the fewest in the Premier League for a player who featured for 90 minutes since it began its records in 2003.
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The 28-year-old watched on as Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic got the goals to put the European champions in control of the tie ahead of the return leg in France.
"It was not the moment after the match where everyone was focused on his few touches, so it was not the moment to put him into the next fire," said Tuchel.
"It was the moment to take a step back, that was the decision and that's it. We have now had a strong win and a strong performance.
"We have now had a good win - and all the questions are still about Romelu, so the focus is huge. There are nine other players who did not play and we should never forget that we consider this sport a team sport."
Tuchel said he was “very pleased” with the performance of Havertz, who scored his second goal in three games having also got the decisive strike in the Club World Cup final win over Palmeiras.
“He's been very strong for weeks now," said Tuchel.
"He has really stepped up and his effort is immense, his work rate is immense, and the volume, the areas of the pitch that he covers for us is very, very good.
"He was again decisive, he created chances, got involved and was never shy of defending. We played with a very aggressive high line with Hakim [Ziyech], with all three offensive players together.”
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