Football Features

Romelu Lukaku: Chelsea’s Big Chance to dethrone Man City as Premier League champions

By Harry Edwards

Published: 8:55, 19 August 2021 | Updated: 18:37, 10 September 2021

Chelsea have confirmed the signing of Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan, bringing the Belgian back to the club seven years after his departure.

The reported fee of £97.5m makes Lukaku — who has been given the No.9 shirt — Chelsea’s record signing, replacing Kepa Arrizabalaga and Kai Havertz, with the Belgian joining the club he supported growing up on a five-year deal. In the years since Lukaku’s initial departure, a lot was said about Chelsea’s failure to get the best out of the striker, instead sending him out on loan to West Brom and Everton before selling him to the latter despite his success and the Blues’ struggle up front.

Lukaku starred full-time at Everton, did well at Manchester United and thrived under Antonio Conte at Inter Milan, scoring 177 goals in 324 games across all competitions. For Inter Milan particularly, his goals were vital in helping them win the league, netting 24 times in 36 Serie A matches as the Nerazzuri ended a 10-year wait for the scudetto.

But, like Conte, Lukaku has now left Inter and is looking to make his mark on England once more. And the Premier League’s all-time top scorer Alan Shearer believes Lukaku’s arrival could send Chelsea to their first title in five years.

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“Chelsea had everything apart from a goalscorer last season and there were too many times where they created chances and didn’t put the ball in the back of the net,” Shearer wrote in his column for BBC Sport.

“Lukaku changes that because we know he will score goals. He guarantees lots of them actually, which is why they have gone all out to get him and were willing to spend so much to bring him back to Stamford Bridge.

“He is going to be a huge signing for them. Put it this way, he can be the difference between them being champions or not. That’s how important he is.

“We are talking about one of the best strikers in the world — that’s how good Lukaku is. At 28, he is at his peak and I think he has improved a lot since he left Manchester United for Inter Milan in 2019 because of the experience he has had in Serie A.

“He is a better all-round player now, plus he is hungry and has got something to prove at Chelsea after he was allowed to leave when he was younger.

“Lukaku is arriving at a club that has everything else in place to win the title, although there are a few sides who will have something to say about that.”

Finishing chances is something for which Lukaku is known. But it was also Chelsea’s biggest problem in the Premier League last season, particularly under Thomas Tuchel. Timo Werner’s arrival last summer was meant to remedy previous issues but the German endured a tough first campaign in England despite being Chelsea’s joint-top scorer across all competitions (12 goals).

In the Premier League under Tuchel, Werner and the rest of the Chelsea squad scored 25 goals in 19 matches, the 10th-best return in the league during that period. By comparison, their fellow top four finishers managed 47 (Manchester City), 37 (Manchester United) and 31 (Liverpool). But to make matters worse, Chelsea were terrible in taking the so-called Big Chances (a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score).

Again focussing solely on Tuchel’s time in charge, Chelsea had a total of 49 Big Chances in the Premier League, the third-most behind only Liverpool (57) and Man City (51). However, Chelsea only managed to score 17, with their 32 Big Chances missed second only to Liverpool’s 40. Chelsea’s Big Chance conversion rate of 34.69% had them in the lower half of the table, with only six teams managing worse including two of the three relegated sides. Werner was the worst culprit for Chelsea, missing nine of his 11 Big Chances with a conversion rate of 18.18%.

By comparison, Lukaku was one of the best at taking his Big Chances in Serie A last season, netting 20 of the 39 he had, with a conversion rate of 51.18%. Only Cristiano Ronaldo (23) scored more Big Chances than the Belgian, but the Juventus man did have 11 more opportunities from which to find the net, while Lukaku’s average of 0.62 Big Chances scored per 90 minutes will be crucial to any potential Chelsea title charge.

Over the years, Lukaku has also been compared to Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane, as two of the best strikers in Europe at similar ages (Lukaku is older by two-and-a-half months). Kane himself has been heavily linked with a move away from his club this summer, with Man City touted as his next possible destination. But Shearer believes his signing would not guarantee Man City the league due to Lukaku’s arrival.

“Joining Manchester City would be a brilliant move for Harry Kane, but if it happens I don’t think it means the Premier League title race is all over,” he added.

“It’s not going to be as straightforward as that for City, especially with Chelsea signing Romelu Lukaku.”

Last season both players were vital to their teams, with Lukaku playing 36 matches and Kane 35 in their respective leagues (though Kane played more minutes at 3,085 to 2,886). Lukaku did outperform Kane for goals, averaging 0.8 per 90 minutes, with all but one coming from inside the box (six penalties).

The Belgian also had a better shooting accuracy than Kane, hitting the target with 62.34% of his shots in Serie A last season while having a conversion rate of 31.17% compared to Kane’s 48.62% shot accuracy and 21.1% conversion rate. However, Kane was the more creative of the two, having to work harder for his struggling team, recording 0.5 assists per 90 minutes — though it was only slightly more than Lukaku’s 0.4.

Both are now arguably at their peaks in the game and, wherever Kane does play his football this season, the Premier League’s Golden Boot race and title race is going to be a thriller.