Now Romelu Lukaku is here, are Chelsea Premier League title contenders once more?

The prolonged search for a lethal gunman has finally reached a conclusion, Romelu Lukaku has returned to Stamford Bridge and is ready to seek redemption in Chelsea blue.

After a deal was struck between the Nerazzurri and Chelsea for a fee in the region of 95 million, Chelsea fans are excited for the arrival of the Belgian striker; the best team in Europe and one of the most potent and prolific goal scorers in the world go hand in hand.

Lukaku at the top of his game.
At the top of his game. Credit | Getty Images

Since leaving the blue side of London, Romelu Lukaku has had a very overlooked career path. Having made only one start during his first spell at Chelsea, Lukaku struggled to find a breakthrough to stardom. A loan move to West Bromwich Albion would ignite his path to professional football glory. Lukaku spent a season there, scoring 17 goals in 35 games (20 of which were starts). Then Lukaku popped up on the radar of several Premier League clubs; Everton secured his services and Lukaku spent four seasons in Merseyside, scoring 86 times in 153 games. This impressivce goalscoring record put him on the podium with the league’s best strikers. A move to the red side of Manchester was where his journey took him, 76 million was the fee paid and Lukaku became the Manchester United number 9. Scoring 42 goals in 77 starts over the course of two seasons, Lukaku had carried his form on. However, things went sour with the club and Lukaku was told he was to be sold on after just two seasons with Manchester United.

Romelu Lukaku was sold abroad for the first time in his career. Inter Milan was the next stop on the map, a fee of 66 million was paid by the Nerazzurri and Lukaku had arrived in Milano. The footballing world had ignored Lukaku and began to stop acknowledging his abilities and numbers. Time to prove everyone wrong.

Lukaku started the 19/20 season with Inter and scored 34 times in his debut season. He was now Inter’s marksman and began a lethal partnership with his strike partner – Lautaro Martinez. The following season was to be his best season in his career up to date, scoring 39 goals in 44 games as Inter Milan won their first Scudetto in nine years. He outperformed his expected goals ratio and had the best goals per game ratio in the entire league, ahead of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and former Chelsea striker Alvaro Morata. Romelu Lukaku also had the most assists provided (11), dribbles completed (53), chances created (53), touches in the opponents box (232) and duels contested (340) in his entire club.

This would inevitably have put him on the radar of Europe’s elite once again. The man who left Manchester and was thought to have been a forgotten man, had now become hot property.

Any club would have kept a hold of such a world-class player, even more so with the fact that he had only been there for two seasons. However, Inter’s financial position would mean they would have to sell. In came Chelsea, the Champions of Europe.

Chelsea had always been Romelu Lukaku’s first love, and he has even publicly stated that he felt he had unfinished business at Stamford Bridge. It was a matchmade in heaven, Chelsea were seeking a prolific striker to tuck away the chances they were ruing over the previous season, not to forget they would have to strengthen in order to defend their crown and challenge for the league title.

Thomas Tuchel had played a back five, with two holding midfielders and two inside-forwards with a target man as a striker since he took over at SW6. Even though this system had won Chelsea a Champions League title, it was clear there was one major flaw in the structure.

Chelsea’s finishing problem predates Tuchel’s appointment. It was apparent throughout Frank Lampard’s tenure and it was issue for Maurizio Sarri and even Antonio Conte before him. However, Timo Werner signed the previous summer but has only scored six league goals in his first season and has been a disappointment; so, it would have been a huge gamble to bank on him to provide the goals needed to defend the title.     

Chelsea had created the third most chances in the league, however they down performed expected goals for the season by 4.9 goals. The most clinical teams can outperform their expected goals consistently, but Chelsea scored five fewer than they should have, based on the quality and number of chances created. Only four teams – Burnley, Brighton, Sheffield United and Fulham – were more wasteful.

Chelsea’s shot conversion rate was similarly low. They converted just 14.4 per cent of their efforts on goal, this had them ranked in 14th place, sandwiched between Southampton and the relegated West Brom. Creativity was not a problem – Chelsea ranked among the top four Premier League sides for chances created, big chances created and shots on goal. They were just lacking a lethal finisher.

Lukaku would surely solve that issue.

Lukaku’s conversion rate ranked him first in the entire Serie A. In total, Lukaku has scored 47 league goals in 72 games for Inter making him the top scorer in Italy since his arrival in 2019.

His 6ft 2in frame and fearsome physicality make him an ideal target man and he also has the technical guile to hold the ball up and bring others into play, as well as a knack for killer passes. His physical figure doesn’t affect his pace as he was recently recorded sprinting at 36.35km/h.

AC Milan found that out themselves when Lukaku came up against them and left the defense red. Following the game, the AC Milan manager said Lukaku was a ‘pain in the backside’. Lukaku’s various strengths mean he can be dangerous in all scenarios – from counterattacks to set pieces. It is in the opposition penalty box, however, with the ball at his feet, that he comes to life.

In Chelsea’s system, the wingbacks push up as high as the forwards and deliver exquisite crosses from the right and left from Ben Chilwell and Reece James. Lukaku’s height and physicality would make this system an absolute machine against anyone the Blues encounter.

Lukaku would play in a front three, with two inside forwards – most likely Kai Havertz and Mason Mount. With Mount often using his creativity in between the lines and tending to drift centrally, Lukaku would be left up front with Havertz. This would evoke the style Lukaku had been excelling in at Inter, with a fast and agile strike partner in the form of Lautaro Martinez.

Havertz however, has shown his ability towards the end of last season and even in the Euro’s where he carried his German side to the knockout stages – making him a more than capable partner for Lukaku to attack with.

It is one of few areas in which this Chelsea side continues to fall short. There has been remarkable defensive improvement under Tuchel. He has harnessed their quality in midfield and wide positions to excellent effect too. But a key ingredient is still missing. Throw in a goal scorer of Romelu Lukaku’s stature and they would become difficult for anyone to stop.

Written by Ibrahim Khan (@ibzfussball)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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