Romelu Lukaku has nothing to prove – that is a nightmare for defences | Karen Carney
When Sir Alex Ferguson signed Robin van Persie he knew the Dutchman could score the goals needed to take Manchester United to the title, and he proved his manager right in his first season. Thomas Tuchel is hoping Romelu Lukaku will do the same for Chelsea, as the £97.5m final piece in the jigsaw at Stamford Bridge.
The Belgian has proven his capabilities everywhere he has been throughout his career, rarely experiencing a barren spell despite sometimes not being first choice. Lukaku’s form at Internazionale helped to lead them to their first Serie A title in 11 years, ending the nine-year dominance by Juventus, a feat he will be hoping to repeat in England.
Forty-seven goals in 72 matches is an incredible achievement for any striker, especially in Serie A. His record in the Premier League is not far short of that, with 113 in 252 matches. Lukaku dragged West Brom and Everton forward, showing he has always been able to mix it with the best in England, even when it was not at one of the elite teams.
Chelsea’s only struggle since Tuchel took over last season has been in the No 9 position, where others have been unable to make the role their own. Timo Werner was the one most trusted by the head coach but this was rarely rewarded with goals, while Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham rarely looked like they had the backing of the manager.
Chelsea’s top scorer in the Premier League last season was the penalty taker Jorginho with seven goals, all coming from the spot. If a team want to be challenging, they cannot rely on penalties to win a league. They scored 58 in the league last season, compared to Manchester City’s 83, while conceding just four more than City’s 32 but still finished 19 points behind the champions in fourth, with the area of deficiency obvious to all.
Everyone has this perception that with Lukaku you ping it up to him and he brings everyone else into play – but he was one of the best counter-attacking players in Italy, he drifts out to the wider areas, allowing people to go through the middle. He can be a linkup player, he is prolific in front of goal and he is the fittest I’ve ever seen him. He has played under tactically astute managers, such as Roberto Martínez and Antonio Conte and this has given him greater awareness on the pitch; he is adaptable, quick, strong and skilful, which, coming into that Chelsea team, will make him a nightmare for defences. He has got it all.
At the European Championship finals Lukaku would sometimes drift out to the wing, allowing the likes of Kevin De Bruyne to go down the middle into the vacated space. Chelsea have an incredible array of talent at their disposal, allowing them to do similar with those they have playing behind Lukaku. Werner, rather than being replaced, could be a beneficiary of Lukaku’s arrival, as the German always looked better when alongside another centre-forward at RB Leipzig that he could run off and link up with. As a partnership Lukaku and Werner will complement each other if Chelsea decide to play with two strikers.
Lukaku has already announced he likes the system Chelsea play with two operating behind him, dragging defences around, while always looking for the killer pass for the striker. He is also happy to play in a two, which could provide much needed variety to Chelsea as they look to keep teams guessing in the league and Europe. Teams need to have options: at the very top fluidity is a necessity, days of a regimented 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 are behind us; players are so dynamic nowadays and can quickly adapt, forcing the opposition to change with them.
There will be no desperate desire to prove people wrong at Stamford Bridge, because Lukaku has demonstrated his quality at numerous clubs since his first spell in west London. He is a better and more experienced player, confident in his own ability in the prime of his career, so he will not be worried about what someone thought of him a decade ago. He brings everything to the team, he could be like Didier Drogba for Chelsea – he has all the right attributes to be a focal point of the attack and score the goals to go with it.
The Belgian is back in England in the form and shape of his career. A change of diet during his time at Inter has really helped him. They carried out body analysis and adjusted what he ate, bringing more fish and salad into his meals. I know the benefits of this as I changed my diet and it has really helped me, and he has admitted he has felt a lot better. These tweaks can make a huge difference for an individual.
Chelsea will be desperate to get Lukaku up to speed for the match against Liverpool next weekend, so a debut against Arsenal, whether from the start or bench, will be in the plan. Brentford highlighted the two centre-backs Ben White and Pablo Mari as a potential weakness. Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbuemo targeted Mari, playing down the side of him and were physical up against the Spaniard – Lukaku will do the same to break him back into the Premier League. If Lukaku can get off to a flyer at the Emirates Stadium, it could help steer Chelsea’s charge and make their rivals take notice that they will be in the mix for the season.
After a positive start against Crystal Palace without Lukaku, building on it against Arsenal and Liverpool could be crucial for Chelsea’s season. Wins in the next two matches could give the confidence Chelsea need to realise they have what it takes to move from fourth to first and Lukaku will want to be at the heart of things as a leader from the front.