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Courtois backs Lukaku despite ‘strange’ problems at Chelsea


London (AFP) – Real Madrid ‘keeper Thibaut Courtois said on Tuesday Romelu Lukaku’s lack of playing time at Chelsea is “strange” but believes his Belgian compatriot will come good under Thomas Tuchel.

Lukaku has fallen out of favour under Tuchel this season, with Kai Havertz expected to lead the line in Wednesday’s first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals against Real Madrid.

“I know Romelu is a really great striker. Obviously, it is a bit strange not to see him play that much lately,” Courtois said in a press conference ahead of the first leg. 

“He is a guy with an enormous quality. He finds the goal easily.

“Obviously, there are other great strikers at Chelsea. I understand it is not always easy when the team is winning, obviously, the manager keeps playing the same players.

“But I’m sure he will get through it. Sometimes you just need a little adaptation. I had the same thing in my first season at Real Madrid, it wasn’t easy. I’m sure he will come through.”

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has not travelled with the squad to London as he is still isolating at home due to his positive test for Covid last week.

Madrid remain hopeful Ancelotti will test negative and join up with the squad on Wednesday – but Courtois said the players can cope without the Italian.

“We know how he is, how he wants us to train and he participated in a chat with us by video call,” saif Courtois. “Obviously there is a difference if he is on the bench and can participate more, but in Celta Vigo (on Saturday) the technical team did very well.”

Madrid were outplayed by Chelsea in the Champions League semi-finals last year when they were beaten 3-1 on aggregate, before Chelsea went on to beat Manchester City in the final.

“That was different, it was without fans, in the semi-final, later in the season, it’s a new season and another game,” said Courtois. 

Tuchel said Chelsea want to “prove a point” at Stamford Bridge as they seek to bounce back from their shock 4-1 defeat by Brentford.

The European champions lost for the first time at the weekend since owner Roman Abramovich announced he was selling the club last month, collapsing after taking the lead in their Premier League match.

Tuchel suggested 13-times winners Madrid were not the powerhouse they once were when they won three consecutive Champions League titles from 2016 to 2018, but said they still had bags of experience.

“I think it’s normal that cycles like this change at some point and this is what… happened to them,” he said at his press conference on the eve of Wednesday’s match.

“But we should be very aware that teams with this kind of experience, this kind of flair and this kind of quality can produce special performances and special nights and special occasions.

“For us it’s also a pretty special occasion to play against Real Madrid in a quarter-final. That’s why we feel also pretty excited and we don’t lose too much sleep to think about where they are in Europe. 

“We want to prove a point tomorrow again. We want to prove it to ourselves and that’s the target and the occasion is special and the opponent is special.”

Tuchel said he did not have concerns over the commitment of defender Andreas Christensen, who is understood to be close to completing a free-transfer move to Barcelona.

“Maybe it is a bit more challenging for him than normal, in a moment where everything is clear or where you are fully committed to your club you play for at the moment, which is obvious, but maybe he cleared his future,” said the Chelsea boss. “I don’t know it yet.”

He added: “He is our player and we want to have the most of him and he needs to be focused. This is his job. He needs to be determined and this is what we expect from him and I think we can expect it.”

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