Romelu Lukaku was supposed to solve the problems of the Chelsea striker. After losing the FA Cup again, what should the club do?

LONDON – Nothing screams ‘Chelsea need a striker’ like a scene Ross Barclay He plays as a center forward in the FA Cup Final.

He’s been an indirect path to these more bizarre situations, counting on a midfielder without any first-team minutes since January 8 to help finish an occasion like Saturday’s penalty shootout loss to Liverpool – but nonetheless provided evidence of the manager. The reason why there is still a gap between the Blues and the top two sides in England.

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Favorite choice Kai Havertz Failed a fitness test late due to a hamstring problem, Romelu Lukaku It was replaced after 85 minutes, Christian Pulisic Failed to impress when he moved to the middle, Timo Werner He has a hamstring problem in the warm-up and Ruben Loftus-Cheek It only lasted 13 minutes before Barkley’s superior penalty kick record led to his surprising inclusion in the final minutes of extra time.

Barkley converted the penalty, and in this context Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel will feel the special decision was justified. However, bringing Loftus-Cheek into pole position so late in the game – at the start of the second half of extra time – was itself somewhat bewildering given its proximity to a penalty shootout.

If Werner is still fit enough on the bench, can’t he play 15 minutes? And the bizarre image of Barkley playing time as the temporary number 9 is emblematic of a broader cause. With or without Lukaku, Chelsea have not been as cohesive in attack as Manchester City and Liverpool over the course of the season.

As was the case when the two also met in the Carabao Cup final in February, and in the Champions League quarter-final exit from Real Madrid in April, the Blues had enough chances at Wembley on Saturday to win but failed to capitalize on them. For all his troubles since returning to Chelsea in a €115 million transfer from Inter Milan last summer, Lukaku is the club’s top scorer this season with 15 goals. Only three other players got double figures in all competitions. In contrast, Liverpool has three players – Mohamed SalahAnd Sadio Mane And Diogo Jota All of them scored 15 goals in the English Premier League alone.

Before playing two games, Chelsea scored 73 goals in the league, a respectable number but still far below Liverpool (89) and City, who scored 94 goals despite failing to sign the center forward he desired last summer. Pep Guardiola has found a way to keep City effective no matter how Tuchel didn’t quite match. It’s a situation that should be at the top of the list once the club’s new owners are in place: either move Lukaku or build around him more effectively to bridge the gap between Liverpool and City.

The issue of Lukaku’s future resurfaced again on the eve of Saturday’s game, sparking headlines that the Belgian himself sought to defuse after his agent was quoted discussing a return to Italy – but by that point on Friday, Tuchel had already admitted a “situation he didn’t want before The big matches.

Lukaku’s unhappiness has appeared in the background since he gave that controversial interview to Sky Italia in December, but broader events have bypassed Chelsea since then, and it is clear that the sale launched by the UK government penalizing owner Roman Abramovich for alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir put him in .

Havertz has proven to be a more effective option, but is arguably more effective without the ball because he drives Chelsea pressure so well; His absence was deeply felt early on at Wembley Stadium on Saturday as Liverpool threatened to overpower the Blues in a devastating 20-minute opening period. Luis Diaz Riots ran without scoring. Pulisic had plenty of chances after Chelsea settled in – the clearest of which was two minutes into the second half when he shot straight at Alison From inside the box – but this was a wasteful performance from the USA International, and another example of the extravagance that permeates the team.

Lukaku was withdrawn after touching the ball only 15 times, the fewest players on the field with the exception of Salah (13), who played just 33 minutes before suffering a groin injury. Losing Werner shortly before kick-off was unfortunate, but the Germany international was never the most reliable player anyway, certainly another lacking the clinical touch Chelsea desperately need in front of goal.

Tuchel pointed to the impact of government sanctions on his planning for the next season and the debilitating effect on the end of this campaign, citing players including Andreas Christensen And Antonio Rudiger He left him unlike the unit that Liverpool currently owns. However, Chelsea were still able to rally support for the Liverpool game with a big move, only falling behind in front of goal again. It felt significant in the broader context that none of Chelsea’s seven penalties had been taken by a recognized striker while Liverpool had been. jotaAnd Roberto Firmino And I am among those who take them.

Instead of one last piece of trophies to end the Abramovich era, Chelsea claimed an unwanted piece of history as the first team to lose three consecutive FA Cup finals. After their 2020 loss to Arsenal, they suffered a 1-0 defeat at Leicester City last season due to another barren outing in front of goal, a problem that was repeated so regularly that it prompted them to pay a club record fee to sign Lukaku. The problem still exists.