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Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea: Evolution at Inter makes him the complete forward

Romelu Lukaku returns to Chelsea and the Premier League as a better player than when he left. Find out how and why he is now the complete striker...

Thomas Tuchel has a new striker as Chelsea bring Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge
Image: Thomas Tuchel has a new striker as Chelsea bring Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge

His Belgium national team coach Roberto Martinez was among those to suggest there has been an evolution in Romelu Lukaku’s game and one statistic highlights it best. Nobody in Italy provided more assists from open play than Lukaku did for Inter last season.

It is a statistic still viewed with scepticism by some and it is true that Lukaku's tally of 11 included a number of straightforward square passes and lay-offs. But other goals highlight the awareness, intelligence, vision and touch that carried Inter to the title.

The threaded ball on the turn, directed between two defenders, for Lautaro Martinez's equaliser against Crotone was the sort of measured pass more often associated with a playmaker supreme. His cross for Martinez's goal against AC Milan was that of a winger.

His assist in the win over Lazio in February was very different. That featured a driving run from deep, outpacing one defender and drawing another towards him before slipping the ball right-footed to his strike partner Martinez to stroke into the net unmarked.

There have been 64 goals of his own in his two seasons in Italy. That has become a given from a player who has now netted over 300 times in his career. What is so interesting is that as well as scoring all types of goals, Lukaku is now assisting all types of goals too.

It is a level of performance that has persuaded Chelsea to bring him back to Stamford Bridge one decade on from signing his first contract at the club. Lukaku, 28, returns at the peak of his powers, never better prepared to make a big impact on the Premier League.

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Romelu Lukaku's best Premier League goals from his first time in England

At a shade shy of £100m, the fee puts him under unwelcome scrutiny from the outset. Fears over any potential resale value draw unfavourable comparisons with Erling Haaland, seemingly the dream signing for Chelsea supporters and every other top club in Europe.

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But there always seems to be too much focus on what Lukaku cannot do, even as that list grows ever smaller. Perhaps that is inevitable having departed Chelsea for Everton before missing out on trophies at Manchester United, the right man at the wrong time.

Success at Inter changes the tone of Lukaku's story. Building on it back at Chelsea could yet rewrite it entirely. It will surely help that Thomas Tuchel will have a clear idea of what he wants from his new signing - an appreciation that he is more than a mere target man.


That should have been obvious during his prior stint in the Premier League, so often did he cut in from the right wing for Everton. Only at United did Lukaku end up being misused as a more static target in attack, the football more rudimentary than it ever needed to be.

Perhaps he was culpable too, his form dipping in his second season at Old Trafford. But the criticism clearly stung - Lukaku once sharing training data that showed he was the second fastest player at the club. He has shown since that he can still play another way.

Antonio Conte's Inter were brilliant on the counter-attack and Lukaku was instrumental in those breakaways. No team in Europe's five major leagues came close to having as many fast breaks as they did. No team scored from as many of them either.

Out of possession, he would drop deeper than Martinez, the dynamic Argentine leading the press. That left Lukaku well placed to link the play when Inter regained the ball and it is easy to envisage the striker playing a similar role for Chelsea alongside Timo Werner.

In Werner and Christian Pulisic, Tuchel has quality wide forwards. In Kai Havertz and Mason Mount, he has midfield runners who can go beyond the striker. Lukaku complements them. He can feed off that service and he can provide opportunities for others too.

The chances will surely come at Chelsea. Last season ended in Champions League success, with the team having recovered to finish fourth, but for much of the campaign, under Tuchel as well as Frank Lampard, wastefulness in front of goal was a feature.

Chelsea were one of only two top-half teams in the Premier League to have a higher expected goals total than their actual goal tally. On this metric, they were by far the worst finishers of all their rivals, with Werner shouldering much of the blame for that.

Lukaku will not score every chance either but he did overperform his expected-goals numbers in each of his last four seasons as a Premier League player. If Chelsea can produce the same volume of chances then they can be confident of scoring many more goals.

Romelu Lukaku's shot map for Inter in the 2020/21 Serie A season

That is why Lukaku is back. Conte fought hard for Inter to sign him, recognising that he was ideal for his system and vindicated by the profit now made upon his departure. Tuchel will be less concerned about the latter but has clearly identified similar plans for him.

Perhaps the words of another former Chelsea boss are most pertinent here. Jose Mourinho was the man who sold Lukaku first time around before taking him to Manchester. He believes that this Lukaku has a "self-confidence that he did not have before".

If he can retain that swagger at Stamford Bridge, he will thrive. From Didier Drogba to Diego Costa, they love a proper striker there. Belatedly, it is time to learn to love Lukaku. Ten years after first signing for the club, he finally looks ready to assume that mantle.

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