Durban - Despite being talented and at the peak of his career, Chelsea’s signing of Romelu Lukaku will go down as one of the biggest flops of the season.
Lukaku has scored five Premier League goals so far, a poor return for a player who was expected to be among the golden boot contenders this season.
Lukaku arrived at Stamford Bridge with heavy expectations on him after he played a vital role in helping Inter Milan win the Serie A last season for the first time in over 10 years.
Chelsea have not had much luck when it comes to signing strikers over the past 20 years. The only big successes in that time were Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba and Diego Costa.
The Blues went all out to sign the Belgian for £97.5 million just less than a year ago. It’s not surprising that he has failed. Chelsea are paying the price for signing strikers without much forethought. When they signed Fernando Torres, Alvaro Morata and Lukaku, they did so under the belief that because those players scored in abundance for their former clubs, they must do so when in Blue shirts.
Lukaku simply does not fit into Thomas Tuchel’s tactics and it’s been evident this season. Lukaku is a poacher type of striker which does not really suit Tuchel’s tactics.
He fitted into Antonio Conte’s system at Inter as he was used as a counter-attack striker and used as an outlet for his team in transition. In this system, Lukaku was allowed to isolate opponents and could get himself into space or run behind high lines.
What the Blues need is a technically adept striker who can get involved in build-up while also drifting about, a player in the mould of Kai Havertz. The German is continuously improving under Tuchel’s system because he looks for good service instead of waiting for it.
Unlike Havertz, Lukaku is not agile across short spaces and does not have the instinct to get involved in build-up play. When he played for Manchester United, he struggled for similar reasons.
Chelsea are now stuck in a situation where they signed Lukaku on a long-term contract and on high wages. When they do sell him, which is likely to be soon, they are not going to get anywhere near the value that they paid for him.
Lukaku alone is not responsible for Chelsea’s inconsistent season. All of the Blues’ no 10s have struggled in that regard. By comparison Manchester City’s players are able to create and score more since they all are able to pass, dribble and finish well.
In short, Lukaku works in counter-attack systems such as those used by Conte but he is poor when playing for possession-heavy sides such as the big guns in English football.
Lukaku’s signing was a knee-jerk reaction to Timo Werner’s lack of goals last season. What Tuchel should have rather done was focused on making his defence stronger while using Havertz as a false nine.