Chelsea's Lukaku predicament
Around this time last year, many Chelsea fans were scratching their heads thinking, “why pay 20 odd million pounds for a player who is sitting on the bench” in reference to Romelu Lukaku. Now, many of the same Chelsea fans are desperate for him to return.
Lukaku’s loan move to West Bromwich Albion has worked out better than most people imagined it would, especially with the presence of proven Premier League strikers like Peter Odemwingie as well as the experienced and cultured Markus Rosenberg. However, despite not starting particularly many games at first, Lukaku’s superb substitute appearances swiftly put him in West Brom’s starting eleven on a regular basis. Currently, the Belgian striker sits on 13 goals in the Premier League and is one of the league’s most feared strikers.
What makes this whole Lukaku saga so interesting is the fact that neither 50 million pound man Fernando Torres, nor January signing Demba Ba look anywhere near as deadly right now as Lukaku does. Torres has had yet another disappointing and highly unconvincing situation despite a decent start, while Ba has only shown flashes of the form that led to his January move to the West London club. Theoretically, Lukaku should walk straight into the Chelsea team when he returns this summer, although there are some doubts about that.
After all, many feel Chelsea managers feel they often have to play Torres in order to satisfy notoriously hard to please Roman Abramovich (see Roberto Di Matteo). Rafael Benitez has generally gone with Torres in most of the games Chelsea have played, although in some of the bigger games, such as the one away to Manchester City on February 24th, he went with Ba. So far, I’d class the signing of Ba as unsuccessful.
Despite a superb debut away to Southampton in the FA Cup in which he scored twice, he has been largely unimpressive, and hasn’t looked truly into the game at times. The same problem exists and has existed for over two years now with Fernando Torres; just not being part of the game.
When Chelsea signed Ba, I thought things would be different. After all, Ba was full of confidence after a superb first half of the season at Newcastle, and there was no reason why he would need any time to develop. Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 formation with Oscar/Moses, Hazard and Mata has a very similar setup to the one employed by Newcastle, with the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Sylvain Marveaux to switch around and create.
But for some reason, Ba hasn’t found himself in many good positions. When he is in said positions, he generally takes the chances, but in terms of getting them, it’s not really happening for him.
So will Lukaku be any different? I have some doubts. Lukaku is a powerful target man, who is magnificent in the air, but Chelsea’s trio do not tend to put in a great deal of crosses. Lukaku’s footwork is still top notch, but not as good as his aerial ability. In order to get the absolute most out of Lukaku, Chelsea will probably have to slightly alter their style. However, all of Chelsea’s creative players do have excellent technical ability and I see no reason why they can’t adapt.
The real issue is whether the Chelsea manager at the time will be entirely comfortable with having a then 20-year-old striker lead the line while Torres sits on the bench, as I can’t see the Chelsea number nine leaving just yet.
If I were Chelsea, here’s what I would do: sell Torres, keep Ba, buy a young, bright talent such as Jackson Martinez or Léo Baptistão from Rayo Vallecano. Falcao would be too expensive and is in his prime, and I think Chelsea need a younger player. Having Lukaku as well as one of these young players would set Chelsea up perfectly for the future, and would lead to a few games for the highly-rated Islam Feruz, who is currently impressing immensely in the Chelsea youth team.
Bringing Lukaku back and selling Torres is definitely a risk. But to be honest, I think anyone that genuinely expects Torres to return is, essentially, kidding themselves. The presence of Torres has done little other than divide the club’s fans, and his time is up for me.
Mr. Abramovich and the Chelsea manager appointed from this coming August: Give Lukaku a chance, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, he has all the ability in the world to become Chelsea’s main man.