When Chelsea signed Romelu Lukaku in the summer of 2021 he was seen as the missing link to get the team challenging for the title. He started the season brilliantly, scoring four goals in five games. Since October, he has scored six goals in all competitions. What has gone wrong for the €100 million striker? This article will make a case for and against him and try and find out what the solution is.
Lukaku Get's No Service
The glaring drawback for Lukaku and really any striker at Chelsea over the last few seasons is that they get little service. Another reason that has popped up is that the current system does not suit him. A case can be made for both points and he probably feels that if the team plays to his strengths then it would benefit him.
Chelsea’s players tend to play it safe in possession. There are no risk takers. Ball possession is often recycled side to side and the ball is rarely put into the box. The incisive passes between the lines are often missing. This means that Lukaku is often seen asking for the ball through the channels or waiting for a pass to come into him but is overlooked.
Lukaku throughout his career has thrived in systems that play on the move, essentially counter-attacking teams. This allows for more space to run in for the Belgian, coupled with players who make the passes he often get’s the goals. At Everton, he had the likes of Gerard Deulofeu and Kevin Mirallas while at Inter he had Achraf Hakimi and Nicolo Barella among others.
Chelsea never replaced Cesc Fabregas, who was so essential to their success. Eden Hazard was a constant threat from the wings while Willian and Pedro were consistent. Hakim Ziyech has just begun to hit some form, while Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi have been inconsistent in their performances. Lukaku, though, is finding it tough to garner sympathy and there are a plethora of reasons for that.
Lukaku's On-Pitch and Off-Pitch Issues
Several articles in news publications are stating that Chelsea have signed Lukaku in his prime. The Belgian has stated in various interviews that he has evolved as a player and can fit into any system, style or way in which the club operates. These are the types of statements that have taken the mickey out of fans and clearly flummoxed the board and Thomas Tuchel as well.
Chelsea last season were creating several chances per game, but the final piece in the puzzle - a classic no. 9 was missing. Timo Werner was brought in in the summer of 2020, but his finishing left much to be desired. Nevertheless, he still worked hard for the team and his movement often helped other teammates prosper.
The idea of replacing Werner with Lukaku has not hit the rails yet. Unlike Werner, he offers little to know movement which creates no space for his teammates and doesn’t see him getting into dangerous positions. The fact that the Belgian managed seven touches against Crystal Palace left many stunned.
So why would Thomas Tuchel change a system that has won three trophies for the club, a system that was creating the bulk of chances per game? There is no excuse for Lukaku not to work hard and try to fit himself into the system. He doesn't display the leadership qualities that one would expect from him. There seems to be no hunger to deliver on the pitch, not to mention his most recent ill-fated Sky Italia interview.
Lukaku, having returned from injury towards the end of December, returned to action in good form. In the build-up to the Liverpool match, Sky Italia released an interview they had conducted with him around November. It was basically an apology to Inter Milan fans, and he stated that he missed the city, the fans, his teammates, etc. It really left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth and saw him dropped from the Liverpool game altogether.
Lukaku is a lethal striker but throughout his career he has thrived on the counter. A team that dominates possession needs a player that is mobile and agile. A player that can press from the front. With these qualities not being his strong suit, what are the options available to Thomas Tuchel in the coming months?
Chelsea could start to play a pragmatic style of football on the counter but that is not going to happen. Lukaku could and should get his head down and try and work hard for the team. Build chemistry with the players and try and earn the fans respect once again. These are both options if Tuchel persists with him.
Tuchel could decide to drop him and no one would complain. Playing Kai Havertz up top like last season and bringing back Werner could be one solution. Chelsea might miss chances but the team would be more of a threat and would create several more. Pressing from the front could return and fans would enjoy watching the team play, unlike in the last few months. This would also help unite a squad that looks disjointed.
Long term? It’s quite evident that Lukaku was another panic buy from Chelsea. Tactically, Timo Werner is a perfect fit for a possession-based system, but the only problem is that he is very profligant in front of goal. Manchester City and Liverpool have been playing without traditional strikers for several seasons now. Gone are the days when the goal scorer equalled a big, strong center forward.
Chelsea tried for Erling Haaland and Harry Kane and as time ticked on saw Lukaku and figured that it was a low-risk transfer. At the time it did seem so, but he has shown that he is a square peg in a round hole. Ideally, Chelsea should cut their losses and sell Lukaku in the summer. Armando Broja is doing well and should return while the scouting department and Tuchel need to sit down and work together on a replacement.
As of now, the 28-year-old just doesn't feel to be in the right mindframe, which may cost the club dearly. The expectation, the hype, what he said, how he made the fans feel and then how he tore it all apart has been a lot to take. Nothing he has shown since that interview says that he is on the road to redemption. The season is not over and things can change, but the mountain that Lukaku needs to climb seems to grow with every game.
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Q. Is there a way back for Lukaku?