Returns for Lukaku, Kepa and Conte – Chelsea v Tottenham talking points

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Chelsea will host Tottenham in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

Here, PA looks at the main talking points.

Lukaku handed chance to make amends

Romelu Lukaku File Photo
Romelu Lukaku, pictured, has apologised to Chelsea’s players (Adam Davy/PA)

Chelsea hope the fallout from Romelu Lukaku’s controversial interview with Sky Sport Italy can now be contained. The Belgium striker apologised to the club and his team-mates and is back in training, having missed Sunday’s 2-2 Premier League draw with Liverpool. The club-record £98million signing had revealed his unhappiness at Stamford Bridge in an interview aired last Thursday but conducted three weeks ago. Boss Tuchel stood Lukaku down for the Liverpool game but the striker’s apology paves the way for full reintegration. The 28-year-old must still win over the fans – but firing a glut of goals will go a long way to redemption.

Kepa steps into the breach

The matchless Edouard Mendy has jetted off to the African Nations Cup with Senegal but left a lasting impression with his final performance in that Liverpool draw. Only a string of stunning Mendy stops kept the Blues in the contest. Now Kepa Arrizabalaga will step up, with the chance to cement his recent return to top form under Tuchel. A fine string of performances now could allow Kepa to bury his 2019 League Cup final low point for good. The Spaniard clashed with then-manager Maurizio Sarri in a mix-up in refusing to be substituted in favour of Willy Caballero for the penalty shoot-out with Manchester City. City went on to win 4-3 and Antonio Rudiger had to stop Sarri confronting Kepa. A redemption story almost three years in the making will be complete should Kepa seize a defining role in a march to silverware now.

Conte back on old stomping ground

Former Blues boss Antonio Conte will return to Stamford Bridge for the first time since being sacked by Chelsea in 2018. The Tottenham manager will be every bit as animated as Tuchel on the touchline, with both teams doubtless taking a relentless approach to the contest. Conte feels he has nothing to prove on his west London return, but will surely be desperate to put one over on his former employers.

Chelsea battle defensive injuries

Trevoh Chalobah had to play through the pain of a recurrence of his thigh injury in Sunday’s Liverpool clash, while Andreas Christensen continues to carry a back problem. England wing-backs Ben Chilwell and Reece James are long-term absentees and so Chelsea’s defensive resources are stretched to the limit. Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are the only specialist wide defenders fit but cannot feature indefinitely, leaving wingers like Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic filling in gamely.

Spurs sweat on latest Covid concerns

Antonio Conte File Photo
Antonio Conte, pictured, will have been sweating over Spurs’ latest coronavirus testing results (Martin Rickett/PA)

Tottenham will have to make several last-minute calls on availability owing to continuing Covid-19 issues. Spurs had an outbreak of Covid that affected nine first-team players in December and saw two games postponed. And Conte admitted earlier this week there could be further new cases in the Spurs squad. Tottenham will not take any risks with any of their players, but Conte will be itching to take the strongest possible squad to west London.

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