Romelu Lukaku: Why have Chelsea re-signed the striker they first bought in 2011?


Romelu Lukaku in 2011 and now
Romelu Lukaku in 2011 when he joined Chelsea, and now

A lot has changed for Romelu Lukaku since the last time he pulled on a Chelsea shirt as a 20-year-old back in 2013.

He has played for three clubs in two countries, cost a total of almost £300m, scored 193 club goals and become Belgium’s all-time top goalscorer.

His 24 Serie A goals – and 11 assists – last season helped Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan to their first title in 11 years.

But why have Chelsea broken their own transfer record to lure the 28-year-old back to Stamford Bridge? And is he the man to help bring the Premier League title back to the European champions for the first time since 2017?

A world-class striker?

Romelu Lukaku's goals, games and assists by season
Romelu Lukaku has scored 10 or more league goals for the past nine seasons

Lukaku joined Chelsea from Anderlecht for £18m in August 2011, but played only 15 games before leaving for Everton for a then-club record £28m three years later.

During his time at Chelsea, he also enjoyed successful loan spells with West Brom and the Toffees, and has since played for Manchester United and most recently Inter Milan in moves costing £75m and £74m.

Goals have come regularly throughout, but Inter’s recent Serie A title was his first trophy since the 2010 Belgian league with Anderlecht, the season he won the golden boot as a 16-year-old.

Since 2012-13, only six players have scored 10 or more league goals each season in Europe’s top five leagues – Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Luis Suarez, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Lukaku.

During Euro 2020, Lukaku said: “When people talk about Lewandowski, [Karim] Benzema or [Harry] Kane, they call them world class.

“But when it comes to me, it’s just considered good form. That motivates me to work harder and get stronger.

“I belong in that list of world-class players.”

A different Lukaku?

Lukaku returns to the Premier League a different player to the one who left Old Trafford two years ago.

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez is uniquely positioned to judge him, having signed the frontman at Everton and managed him at international level for the past five years.

Martinez said in June: “He was born with this capacity for scoring goals.

“What we’re talking about now, however, is a different player. Now we’re talking about a player that, on top of his individual talent, has a real degree of maturity.

“These days he’s a completely different human being and a different footballer. He can affect others.”

Only three players scored 20 or more goals and had 10 or more assists in Europe’s top five leagues last season – Kane, Lukaku and Memphis Depay.

His 11 assists was four more than his previous best during his first season at United.

Conte left his role as Inter boss this summer after leading them to the Scudetto.

The former Chelsea boss told L’Equipe: “Romelu is one of the best strikers in the world.

“He always had immense physical and athletic qualities, but during the two years together we saw him grow even more in terms of presence on the pitch, teamwork, and composure in front of goal.”

BBC Sport pundit Pat Nevin, a former Chelsea winger, added: “The question mark with Lukaku, when he was at Everton and Manchester United, used to be his work-rate off the ball, and was it as good as it should have been?

“That was a perfectly reasonable question to ask because at Everton you had nine guys working their socks off and one guy standing up there.

“But I have heard various reports about Lukaku at Inter and watched him – and he has adapted.”

Was Lukaku judged harshly in England?

Top 10 Premier League goalscorers since 2012-13 - Romelu Lukaku is fourth
Romelu Lukaku is the Premier League’s fourth top goalscorer since his first goal in the league – despite having spent the past two seasons in Italy

Lukaku was only the fourth player to score 80 goals in the Premier League before turning 24 – after Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Wayne Rooney. Those goals all came for West Brom and Everton, having failed to score for Chelsea.

That was also after scoring 33 Belgian top-flight goals for Anderlecht, including winning the Golden Boot at the age of 16 in 2009-10.

In his debut season, Lukaku became one of only 11 Manchester United players to hit 25 goals or more in a campaign since 1992-93. Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (25 each) are among the strikers who never matched Lukaku’s 27-goal tally in a United campaign.

He is the 20th top scorer of all time in the Premier League with 113 goals, from only seven seasons of regular football in England.

Former Chelsea striker Chris Sutton said: “He is a proven Premier League goalscorer. That is what Chelsea wanted, that reliability, and Lukaku will provide that. He is going to score a lot of goals for them.”

The Athletic’s Italian football writer James Horncastle told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Football Daily: “He comes back in his absolute peak and I don’t think it is hyperbole to say he is in the top five strikers in the world.

“He took a league that was Ronaldo’s and made it his own. No ordinary striker does that, it is an extraordinary feat. He has become the King of Milan – a city he shares with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. What does he have to prove? It’s a slam dunk for Chelsea.”

Why do Chelsea need Lukaku?

Club Goals Expected goals Goals compared to xG
Manchester City 83 68.91 +14.09
Manchester United 73 60.86 +12.14
Liverpool 68 68.36 -0.36
Chelsea 58 62.92 -4.92
Leicester 68 56.1 +11.9
West Ham 62 56.72 +5.28
Tottenham 68 53.77 +14.23

Chelsea had the second-best defensive record in the Premier League last season – with 36 goals conceded to Manchester City’s 32. But they had the best record by far, from the moment Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard in January.

They only let in 13 goals in their final 19 Premier League games – and 16 in 31 games in all competitions under the German.

Their goalscoring was the big issue. Jorginho was their top league scorer with seven goals – all penalties. That made him the Blues’ lowest-scoring top scorer in a top-flight campaign since 1974-75.

In all competitions Tammy Abraham and Timo Werner, last year’s big-money striker signing, were joint top scorers with 12.

Chelsea’s 58 Premier League goals were 25 fewer than champions City and seven teams scored more than the Blues.

In terms of expected goals, the Opta metric – that judges how many you should score from chances – showed only City and Liverpool ranked above Chelsea’s 62.92.

Werner’s 11.45 xG was the 15th highest in the Premier League – but 49 players scored more than his six goals.

Despite that Chelsea still beat Manchester City all three times they met after Tuchel’s appointment – including in the Champions League final – so how far could they go with a proven scorer?

Sutton added: “If there was a criticism of Chelsea last season, it was that they possibly weren’t ruthless enough and now they have a guy in who is an absolute glutton for goals.

“If Kane goes to Manchester City I would fancy them for the title but, if he doesn’t, then Lukaku going to Chelsea could make the difference for them. I really think they could nick it.”

Nevin said: “The depth Chelsea have got in their squad is scary, even before Lukaku arrived.

“I am not sure he will play every single game, which seems odd for a guy who is costing that much money, and I am intrigued to see if he fits in style-wise with what Tuchel wants, because he wants work-rate.

“But then Tuchel has experience dealing with Neymar and [Kylian] Mbappe at PSG, so he knows how to deal with the big stars and to get that out of them.”

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