Chelsea have a deal in principle to sign Romelu Lukaku from Serie A Champions, Inter Milan for a fee believed to be in the region €115M despite the paperwork not yet being signed. However, it is believed that the big Belgian striker will complete a sensational return to Stamford Bridge in the coming days as final touches to the deal to bring Lukaku back to London are being finalized.
This thread will look at his strengths, weaknesses, how he compares to other strikers and where he does most of his damage. Stats are from a wide range of resources including ExpectedChelsea, fbref and whoscored.
First up, a brief overview of Lukaku’s game. He’s very good at virtually everything required from a striker. His passing in particular is an underrated weapon that will help Chelsea both in transition and settled possessions.
Lukaku is being signed for his end product first and foremost. He’s up there with the very best in Europe for both expected and actual output. Playing for an attack-minded coach like Thomas Tuchel, you’d expect his numbers to increase further.
Lukaku helps his team progress the ball or move it forward in three main ways – via his passing, carrying and most importantly, his ability to receive. Lukaku’s ability to control fast vertical passes from his defenders/midfielders is a VERY underrated trait.
Lukaku is a huge threat in and around the box too. Like with ball-progression, he is equally comfortable at passing, carrying and receiving. Quite a few strikers are active in the box without converting it to end-product. Lukaku takes care of both well.
xGBuildup is a stat that measures the involvement of players in possession sequences ending with a shot. While this graph doesn’t teach us anything new, it does confirm Lukaku’s involvement in Inter’s build-up.
So far, we’ve established that Lukaku is good both inside and outside the box. He’s comfortable taking the final shot, providing the final pass or assuming a more subtle role in build-up.
How does he do it? Let’s take a look.
Lukaku’s creativity – his ability to create shots for his teammates – is mainly based on the central and right channels. The nature of key passes indicates Lukaku is equally good at playing while facing the goal and with his back to goal.
Chelsea fans might remember that this is mainly where Havertz operates too. Will there be a problem? Mostly not. Both Lukaku and Havertz are equally comfortable dropping deep and making runs beyond defences. While one drops deep, the other will attack space.
Inter mainly focused on creating chances for Lukaku from the left flank, as seen in the chart below. Creating from the left allows Lukaku – especially when he occupies the right sided channel – to open up more of his body while shooting, thereby giving him more options.
The bulk of Lukaku’s shots come within the frame of the goal. He does take shots from wider positions but not often. He lives on a strict diet of high-quality chances – mostly focusing on shots close to goal from optimal positions. This is seen in his xG/shot value too.
While this is hard to quantify, Lukaku has some of the most creative and intelligent runs off-the-ball you’ll ever see. Forget pace and power, Lukaku is a craftsman at heart. His art is his movement off the ball.
Lukaku takes shots from good positions but how does he finish? Lukaku has a wide array of finishes in his locker, with both feet and head. He has shown the capacity to score from a variety of situations too – after a dribble, with a single-touch finish, etc.
This is NOT to say Lukaku is an elite finisher. He is only above-average at best. However, finishing is a volatile skill and depends on a variety of metrics. With Lukaku’s track-record, we can safely assume his finishing – while not elite – won’t be a problem.
Where can Romelu Lukaku improve?
Lukaku is already a top 5 striker in the world, it is difficult to find holes in his game. His “first touch” issues are overblown – most strikers have it. It’s not a big problem. However, he can and should take more shots.
Lukaku has never been a high-volume shooter in his career, despite scoring plenty of goals. Among players with 30 or more non-penalty league goals in 19/20 and 20/21, Lukaku’s shots per 90 tally is around the bottom.
Lukaku is a remarkably consistent goal scorer – scoring in plenty of games and stat-padding in very of them – but he can be even better if he shots more. Lukaku can add 3-5 goals every season just by shooting more. The shots don’t even need to be high-quality.
The issue can also be analyzed by looking at how often Lukaku has games with high volume of shots. A lot of his games are completed with just 1 or 2 shots – sometimes with a goal. Why not shoot more? For perspective, Lewandowski averages 2 shots per half.
There are two ways to look at Lukaku’s lack of high-volume shooting.
1. This is who he is and he will simply not change.
2. In a more attacking team and with better teammates, Lukaku will receive more chances to shoot.
Lukaku’s dribbling is fine without being elite. He is not Neymar or Messi but he can do a job on certain opponents.
He can improve aerially. For a player with his size and frame, he gives the impression that he can do more.
To conclude, Lukaku is among the complete strikers in the world – A player capable of doing everything a coach asks of him. For the way Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea play, there is no striker better suited than Lukaku.
What can Chelsea reasonably expect of Romelu Lukaku?
At minimum, Lukaku can score 20-25 goals in the Premier League and 5-10 in the Champions League. More importantly, his presence and intelligence will open up space for our talented array of attackers.