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Romelu Lukaku’s departure from Chelsea is more a question of when than if. Athletic report that the striker is on his way back to Inter, initially on loan with the inevitable reality of a permanent return.
The Belgian’s second appearance with the Blues was a disaster, but that hasn’t always been the case, so how did it go wrong and where do they stand for the club?
After a promising second start for the club, a 2-0 win over Arsenal where the Belgian scored, had 43 touches, made 3 assists and created a big chance, it looks like the talisman has been brought to the blue side of London with the silverware in the lead will descend the Thames empty-handed.
A strained relationship with German coach Thomas Tuchel has been suggested as the root cause for his departure. The couple’s relationship has been on the rocks since an interview with Lukaku aired on Sky Italia, where the striker said he was ‘not happy with the situation’. [at Chelsea]or with the system that the German had chosen to deploy.
Since that time, the relationship and performances have been rocky. After the interview and his subsequent fall for a crucial game against Liverpool in early January – which ended in a 2-2 draw – the Belgian has made 13 Premier League appearances, scoring three times. He only played the full 90 five times as a mix of injuries and favoritism often saw German Kai Havertz deputizing as the club’s number 9 throughout the season, doing a commendable job in a unknown role.
For Chelsea, the reality is that signing Lukaku, like signing Fernando Torres and signing Hernan Crespo, and just about every forward signing apart from a few successes, was a failure.
The Belgian hasn’t lived up to the promise and hype he carved out during two successful years with Inter. He was promised as the man to help the European champions reclaim the Premier League title from the clutches of Liverpool and City, but in the end that pursuit fell through.
In part, the failure is due to Lukaku himself. Apart from a few select games, he didn’t seem eager to get involved during his time at Chelsea, his attitude was poor and he often huffed when things weren’t going well.
It’s partly the system. Lukaku has often been asked to play with his back to goal, used as a panel for Chelsea’s wave of attacking talent. Sometimes, especially at the start and end of the season, he made smart attacking runs that weren’t fulfilled.
These two elements of disappointment are reflected in the statistics. He has averaged 20 touches per game in the Premier League this season compared to 35 last season.
Another factor was injuries. Lukaku suffered numerous injuries, including a bout of COVID-19, which proved disruptive and costly for the team, limiting any chance of team cohesion that could have produced results.
Chelsea’s problem now is that with Lukaku a foot from the door and in Heathrow’s first fight at Milan, it’s time for the club to swoop in for another player to solve their goalscoring issues.
Tuchel has been promised more transfer reins from new owner Todd Boehly, and it won’t be up to the club’s main minds to find the fix for the 191cm, 103kg gap left in his front line.
The deal will also have to be completed without the club’s longtime transfer facilitator Marina Granovskaia, whose departure appears imminent.
Rumor has it that the Blues are increasingly likely to sign Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling this summer. At first glance, the transfer seems strange to replace an authentic number nine with a wily winger. But history suggests that the system Chelsea deployed by Tuchel works much better with the presence of three fluid attacking players.
The side that ironically beat Sterling’s Manchester City in the 2021 Champions League final included a top three of Mason Mount, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, who is a striker by trade but not from the same mold than Lukaku. This setup allows the top three, especially Mount and Havertz, to be completely free of movement, and when the systems of nearly every major team are analyzed in more detail, fluidity within the top three is a fairly common feature. .
In the 12 games Lukaku missed last season, Chelsea lost just one – 1-0 to Everton – won 7 and drew 4. haven’t played with Lukaku in the squad, it’s just a note that a striker isn’t essential to their success.
From an exit perspective, the move for Sterling appears to be working. The Englishman has scored 13 goals and provided 6 assists in 30 games this season compared to Lukaku’s 8 goals in 26 games. And his propensity to play anywhere along the front line makes him an even more intriguing prospect for the club.
The other players rumored to be interested in the club are RB Leipzig attacking midfielder phenom Christopher Nkunku. The Frenchman has had a stellar season in Germany this term, scoring 35 goals and providing 19 assists in 50 games in all competitions as he led his side to 4th place and a Europa League semi-final.
Another potential target for the club is Lille’s Canadian striker, Jonathan David. The natural striker played a pivotal role in his club’s surprise French league title in the 2020-21 season and backed it up with 19 goals in 48 games in all competitions, despite his side finishing at a disappointing 10th place.