Lukaku starts for Chelsea in FA Cup final against Liverpool
Chelsea's Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring their third goal during the English Premier League football match between Leeds United and Chelsea at Elland Road in Leeds, northern England on May 11, 2022. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP)

LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP)— Romelu Lukaku was named in Chelsea's starting line-up for the FA Cup final against Liverpool on Saturday, just 24 hours after his agent said he wanted to talk to the club's new owners about the Belgian striker's future.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel had insisted the latest controversy involving Lukaku would not be a distraction.

And, with Kai Havertz suffering from hamstring issues, Tuchel picked Lukaku as his centre forward at Wembley.

Tuchel made just one change from the midweek win at Leeds as Thiago Silva returned in defence in place of Andreas Christensen.

Quadruple chasing Liverpool, who beat Chelsea on penalties in the League Cup final in February, featured five changes from their win at Aston Villa on Tuesday.

Injured Brazilian midfielder Fabinho was replaced by Jordan Henderson, while Mohamed Salah was back in for Diogo Jota.

Curtis Jones made way for Thiago Alcantara, Andrew Robertson returned at left-back and Ibrahima Konate started instead of Joel Matip at centre-back.

- Difficult season -

Lukaku has endured a difficult season following his £97 million ($118 million) move from Inter Milan.

He angered Tuchel in December when he hinted he wanted to rejoin Inter and said he was unhappy with the way he was used at Chelsea.

According to reports in Italy, the striker's agent Federico Pastorello wants to speak to Chelsea's new owner Todd Boehly about a potential move back to Serie A.

However, Lukaku responded on Friday by claiming he was not involved in pushing for talks over his future.

Lukaku had scored his first Premier League goals since December with a brace in last weekend's draw against Wolves and he netted again at Leeds.

"There was no need to change up top. Why break the rhythm?" Tuchel said of selecting Lukaku.

Mateo Kovacic was fit to start in midfield for Chelsea despite suffering a recurrence of an ankle injury that left him with a heavily swollen foot at Leeds.

"It was nice. I couldn't believe it but he trained yesterday. He wants to play. We take the risk and see if it works in the match," Tuchel said.

"You don't need to lift anyone for a cup final. We are close to the stadium, we see the arch every day. We want to win in our yellow (shirts)."

- 'It's a massive one' -

Liverpool are hoping to win the FA Cup for the first time since 2006, while Chelsea are in the final for a third successive season.

"Today we are here, the first time with this group and it feels amazing to be honest. I can't wait," Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said.

"The boys lift themselves. The wins and competitions keep us going. Let's go from here, there are really important games coming up for us, especially this one today. It's a massive one.

"We have to show real desire in these moments because Chelsea are a world- class team."

Beaten by Leicester and Arsenal in the previous two finals, Chelsea last won the FA Cup in 2018.

Team line-ups:

Chelsea (3-4-3)

Edouard Mendy; Trevoh Chalobah, Thiago Silva, Antonio Rudiger; Reece James, Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho, Marcos Alonso; Mason Mount, Romelu Lukaku, Christian Pulisic

Liverpool (4-3-3)

Alisson Becker; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ibrahima Konate, Virgil Van Dijk, Andrew Robertson; Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keita; Luis Diaz, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane

Referee: Craig Pawson

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