Romelu Lukaku did not mark his return to the Chelsea side with a goal but earned praise from boss Thomas Tuchel after Wednesday’s 2-0 League Cup semi-final win over Tottenham Hotspur.
An early strike by Kai Havertz and an own goal by Spurs defender Ben Davies gave Chelsea an advantage going into next week’s second leg.
The Belgian striker had apologised on Tuesday for saying in a TV interview he was dissatisfied with his role at Stamford Bridge since joining from Inter Milan for a club-record fee of $132.5 million in the close season.
He was left out of the squad for the 2-2 Premier League draw with Liverpool at the weekend but Tuchel said he had no qualms about including him against Tottenham.
“I am happy with the performance, I liked how he played,” Tuchel told reporters. “He was strong, involved and showed huge commitment in our defensive work which was important.”
Lukaku went close with a first-half header, created a great chance for Hakim Ziyech after the break which the Moroccan wasted and hit an injury-time shot straight at Hugo Lloris.
“I expected it honestly because Romelu can handle pressure and adversity. He seemed to be relaxed after the decision was made, after we finished our talks, and after he finished his talks. The decision was made and I felt him relaxed enough to have a performance like this,” Tuchel said.
Four draws in their last five Premier League games have stalled Chelsea’s title challenge and left them 10 points behind leaders Manchester City, so Wednesday’s win was a welcome boost for a Chelsea side hit with injuries and Covid-19 cases.
Defender Thiago Silva and midfielder N’Golo Kante were ruled out on Wednesday after testing positive for and Havertz broke his finger and was substituted at half-time.
They are also without injured fullbacks Reece James and Ben Chilwell, yet still managed to dominate Tottenham.
“I liked this performance. It was far from normal today (Wednesday) against Tottenham who are compact and full of confidence,” he said. “We had two last-minute bad news with Thiago (Silva) and N’Golo (Kante) who were both supposed to start.
“We decided yesterday (Tuesday) at the last minute to switch to a back four and the guys were very committed, open and focused to play how we played.”