When Romelu Lukaku arrived at Chelsea from Inter for $125 million, he was expected to produce goals and lots of them.
Yet, despite his massive price tag and Chelsea’s Champions League victory the season before, Lukaku was like a ghost. He scored just eight goals in 26 Premier League games and struggled to get involved in games.
Lukaku was not a straight fit for Chelsea
The players Lukaku replaced, Olivier Giroud and Tammy Abraham, are agile. Although they are all center-forwards, it’s not hard to imagine Giroud or Abraham dropping deep, getting on the ball, or simply pressing.
But Lukaku is built like a traditional number nine; burly and big but somewhat immobile. Thomas Tuchel’s tactics blocked Lukaku’s natural movement, so he found himself stranded on an island with no service and no friends at the team.
Lukaku has found new life on loan at Inter. Although he struggled with injuries during the season, he has been a great backup.
He can be a great lead striker when given the chance, as he proved in his great performances this spring. He has three goals in five Champions League games, including a decisive penalty against Benfica that helped them to a 2-0 win.
He has also impressed in Serie A. In his recent game against Empoli, he got two goals and an assist.
Against Lazio, he had two assists. Despite his struggles at Chelsea, it’s clear that he is still a great player.
HIS ROLE AT INTER
Lukaku has starred at Inter, playing in a very advanced center-forward role alongside one of Lautaro Martinez or Joaquin Correa.
He is excellent at creating space not only for himself but also for other teammates. It’s why he’s thrived in Inter’s two-striker system.
Under Inter manager Simone Inzaghi, Lukaku plays as a traditional number 9, holding up the ball, playing off the last man, and crashing the box. He gets a lot of shots off (2.63 shots per 90), and he converts his chances very regularly.
Although that may look like any other center-forward, Inzaghi’s tactics, heavily inspired by the Dutch total football, which sees strikers drop deep to the wings to create wide overloads.
The result is Lukaku not only getting touches and involving himself in the offensive build-up, but also him getting some one-on-one opportunities like his goal at Empoli.
He’s a great penalty-taker. The last penalty he missed was in 2017. This season, he’s taken and scored four penalties, including his recent iconic stoppage-time penalty against Juventus.
He invariably stutter-steps to the penalty shot, and he may include a pause inspired by Neymar from time to time. He understands the art of penalties perfectly, and it’s paid off for Il Nerazzuri greatly.
His physical build helps him wrestle defenders while searching for crosses, but Inzaghi has helped Lukaku unlock a new level of agility and playmaking to his game.
He can bring the ball upfield, hold up the ball, and make space for the ball with his inventive third-man runs to deflect defenders.
Unlike at Chelsea, where it seemed they were playing down a man every time Lukaku played, Lukaku is making a genuine impact on Inter and is a key part in their charge for Champions League football.
Although he may not see a lot of Champions League action, as the strike partner of Lautaro Martinez and Edin Dzeko usually starts in the Champions League, he will still be a very big influence on Inter as they challenge Roma and Milan for a spot in the Champions League.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Marco Canoniero
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