Romelu Lukaku is back at Chelsea, but will the Inter Milan striker be the right fit at Stamford Bridge?
So often characterised as the ‘new Didier Drogba’ and left to do it all on his own up front during his time at Manchester United, we’ve arguably seen the best form of Lukaku’s career during his two years at Inter.
The Belgium international is so much more than just a big man up front, and Chelsea would do well to recognise that if they are to truly get the most from their significant investment in him this summer.
Blessed with pace, technique and intelligence, Lukaku was given a platform to show this wide array of skills better than ever under Antonio Conte at Inter, with the 28-year-old looking most effective as part of a partnership up front with Lautaro Martinez.
This video below is perhaps the best illustration of how well these players combined, with Lukaku clearly not just the man waiting in the box to get on the end of crosses or hold up the ball – not that he’s bad at either of those things either, it’s just that you don’t get the best version of Lukaku if you stereotype him in this way, you get the Man Utd version instead.
Chelsea normally play with one main man up front, with the club having a history of success in recent times by having a Drogba or a Diego Costa in that role, though it’s been a while since they had anyone that good doing the job for them.
The Blues have a poor track record when it comes to signing strikers, with big names like Andriy Shevchenko, Fernando Torres, Alvaro Morata, Radamel Falcao and Gonzalo Higuain among the biggest flops who totally failed to live up to expectations.
Timo Werner is the latest on this long list, with the Germany international managing just six league goals in 35 games last season, with little sign of a revival so far in pre-season this summer either.
Cold cold killer… Welcome home Romelu Lukaku ???pic.twitter.com/O7ORS5SPuS
— Bobby (@CFCRole) August 4, 2021
A new partnership for Chelsea?
Could Lukaku end up being good for Werner? Judging by how he combined with Martinez at the San Siro, it’s easy to see how Werner could play a similar role alongside him at Stamford Bridge.
The 25-year-old doesn’t quite have the stature to lead the line on his own, and has been shifted out wide by Chelsea on several occasions in order to use his pace, though it’s also a bit of a waste of his finishing ability, which we know can be world class from his time at RB Leipzig.
We don’t know if the signing of Lukaku will affect how Chelsea could line up next season, but Thomas Tuchel could kill two birds with one stone by reverting to a front two.
Both Lukaku and Werner could really raise their game if they have the other one up there alongside them to distract defenders, while Kai Havertz could also be a very decent option as a second striker, as he’s displayed by playing a variety of attacking roles in his career.
Playing something like a 3-5-2 could also ensure Chelsea still get that width that they want from their wing-backs, with the crossing ability of Ben Chilwell and Reece James also likely to be useful for someone with Lukaku’s ability in the box.
Discussing how Lukaku could fit in, The Athletic’s Liam Twomey told CaughtOffside: “Tuchel will give him a lot of support from Chelsea’s other attacking players, whether it be in a 3-4-3 or in the 3-4-1-2 that he used in certain situations last season. Havertz could be a nice strike partner for Lukaku against some opponents.”
Can Lukaku put poor United spell behind him?
Of course, it wasn’t just tactics that made life difficult for Lukaku in his two years at Old Trafford, with former Red Devils ace Luke Chadwick previously speaking to CaughtOffside about how the player’s fitness clearly wasn’t quite right at that time.
“I think now at Inter Milan he looks so much more lean, like he’s fitter than he’s ever been before, which would’ve been a question-mark that was thrown at him at United,” Chadwick said last season. “I think he’d be a massive strength to any Premier League club.”
Lukaku has spoken publicly about changing his diet and losing weight at Inter, so will that ease the concerns of any Chelsea fans who might look at his time at United and wonder if he’s really worth spending so much money on?
“Chelsea have liked Lukaku for his entire career,” The Athletic’s Liam Twomey told CaughtOffside. “They were the ones who brought him to England as a teenager and they only sold him in 2014 because Diego Costa was more experienced and ready to be the world-class striker Mourinho needed, and Lukaku was not prepared to be a back-up. The last four years would probably have gone very differently at Stamford Bridge if they had managed to sign Lukaku rather than Morata in 2017, and he has proven in two seasons at Inter that he is one of the most reliable goal-scorers in Europe.”
So why did we not see that Lukaku at Man Utd? “I think Mourinho thought of Lukaku as a target man in the mould of Didier Drogba, but in reality he’s never been at his best with his back to goal,” Twomey said. “United rarely used him in the best way but he still did reasonably well in his first season. His second was the disappointing one, but the team as a whole struggled under Mourinho in 2018-19.”
Dale O’Donnell of Man Utd blog Stretty News agrees, saying: “I don’t think any Red in their right mind thinks Lukaku was useless, but ultimately he didn’t fit the system Solskjaer started building back then. He’s confident, however, that Chelsea “are getting a better, more complete striker with Lukaku this time around. They will need to provide him sufficient service but I feel they’re going to be significantly stronger with a central piece like Big Rom.”
How does Lukaku affect the title race?
Lukaku might not be the only elite centre-forward on the move this summer, with Harry Kane continuing to be linked with Manchester City by the Evening Standard and others.
With Chelsea and City sure to be among the main challengers for the title race, the outcomes of these particular transfer sagas could be crucial, though Luke Chadwick recently told CaughtOffside he expects Pep Guardiola’s side would still be favourites for the title even if Chelsea signed Lukaku *and* they missed out on Kane.
“I’d make City favourites but the signings by Chelsea and United surely mean they’re going to get a bit closer,” Chadwick said. “It certainly bodes well for an exciting Premier League season with the quality of these teams, and with fans back in the stadiums as well. I think it could be one of the most exciting title races for a long time.”
Twomey, meanwhile, has suggested that the two players are too different to compare due to their styles and what they’d bring to the systems used by the clubs in question.
“Lukaku is nowhere near the passer and playmaker that Kane is, but he is far more mobile and threatening in transition at this stage of their careers,” Twomey said. “He can also look less polished in possession at times, but he is a better technical footballer than his critics give him credit for. As he has shown at Inter, he is also a very complete finisher, capable of scoring with his left foot, right foot or his head in a wide range of situations. So too is Kane – they are both among the very best strikers in the world.”
For the time being, Chelsea have their man, and now it’s surely time for City to respond.