Romelu Lukaku bullied Arsenal on his second Chelsea debut but is now fighting for his career

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Romelu Lukaku’s days at Stamford Bridge may be numbered as the curse of the No 9 shirt as Stamford Bridge looks to claim another victim. 

Lukaku made a sensational return to west London for a club-record £98million last summer and he initially hit the ground running, scoring four goals in his first four appearances under Thomas Tuchel.

One of those goals came against Arsenal – when Chelsea beat the Gunners 2-0 at the Emirates in August – and Lukaku will be looking to repeat the feat tonight when the Blues face their London rivals in the reverse fixture.

However, this time around Lukaku will head into the game short on confidence after a barren run which has led to criticism of his performances.  

Lukaku is at risk of joining a long list of strikers – including Mateja Kezman, Radamel Falcao, Hernan Crespo, Fernando Torres, Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain – who have all tried and failed to excel in the Chelsea shirt. 

Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku desperately needs to turn his form around at Chelsea this term

Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku desperately needs to turn his form around at Chelsea this term

He started the season well, scoring four goals in his first four games under boss Thomas Tuchel

He started the season well, scoring four goals in his first four games under boss Thomas Tuchel

Former Chelsea and England boss Glenn Hoddle has said that the Belgian striker must ‘look in the mirror’ and make the necessary changes to his game to prove himself, while ex-Blues midfielder Joe Cole claims that Lukaku has ‘just six weeks to save his career’. 

Speaking to Sportsmail, Hoddle recently said: ‘The missing piece is nothing to do with Tuchel, it’s nothing to do with how Chelsea play. He’s got to look himself in the mirror. 

‘He’s got to look himself in the mirror and say I’ve got to get the best out of myself. He is no way near the player he was since he had that interview. Since he had that injury. 

‘I don’t know if he is fit enough. He doesn’t look really lean and fit to me. Maybe he’s worked on the wrong things. He may have worked hard but he may have worked on the wrong things. 

Lukaku began his second spell at Chelsea by scoring against rivals Arsenal back in August

Lukaku began his second spell at Chelsea by scoring against rivals Arsenal back in August

However, Lukaku has come under fire for his recent performances after failing to find the net

However, Lukaku has come under fire for his recent performances after failing to find the net

Glenn Hoddle doesn't think Lukaku looks 'lean' or fit enough to make an impact for Chelsea. He says the striker must work on his aerobic capacity rather than lifting weights in the gym

Glenn Hoddle doesn’t think Lukaku looks ‘lean’ or fit enough to make an impact for Chelsea. He says the striker must work on his aerobic capacity rather than lifting weights in the gym

THE NO 9 CURSE  

Hernan Crespo (£16.8million in 2003) – 73 games (25 goals)

Mateja Kezman (£5.3million in 2004) – 41 games (7 goals)

Fernando Torres (£50million in 2011) – 172 games (45 goals)

Radamel Falcao (loan in 2015) – 12 games (1 goals)

Alvaro Morata (£60million in 2017) – 72 games (24 goals)

Gonzalo Higuain (loan in 2019) – 19 games (5 goals)

Romelu Lukaku (£97.5million in 2021) – 20 games (10 goals)

 

‘He might have done too much gym work for instance, but I don’t know. I am not privy to that. 

‘He comes on [to the pitch] and he doesn’t look like a player that is going affect the game to me. Your substitutes, when you put them on, you want them to affect the game. You want them to have an impact on the game in a positive way. 

‘He doesn’t quite look that way at the moment. He’s a bit like, if the ball comes or if someone puts it on my head or if someone gives me a chance I’ll score. But he is not working hard enough to create space or get on the end of things. He’s got to look at himself in the mirror.’

Meanwhile, Cole told The Telegraph: ‘Lukaku has six weeks to save his Chelsea career. You look at Werner and he doesn’t give up. Lukaku wants to be that focal point but he missed a chance.

‘When it’s not going for you, it’s not going for you. People saw Lukaku as the missing piece of the jigsaw [when he went back to Chelsea in the summer], it didn’t happen, but it can come back as quickly as it goes. Football can change in one game.’

Former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane also raised doubts about Lukaku’s future at Stamford Bridge, saying: ‘How badly does he want to save his Chelsea career?’.   

Lukaku spent a month on the sidelines after sustaining an ankle injury during the first half of Chelsea’s 4-0 Champions League win over Malmo in October. He returned to the squad at the end of November but failed to regain his place in the starting XI as Tuchel began to favour a false-nine attacking system that included Kai Havertz. 

Amid his lack of game time, Lukaku criticised Tuchel and even suggested he wanted to rejoin Inter Milan in a bombshell Sky Italia interview at the end of December.

Former United star Roy Keane questioned 'how badly Lukaku wants to save his Chelsea career'

Former United star Roy Keane questioned ‘how badly Lukaku wants to save his Chelsea career’

Lukaku sparked controversy by implying he would leave Chelsea to return to his former club. He said: ‘I don’t think any of it [his departure] should have happened the way it did.

‘The way I left Inter and the way I communicated with the Inter fans. I’m annoyed about that because it’s not the right time now but it wasn’t the right time when I left either.

‘I always said that I love Inter and I’ll play for them again. I really hope so. I fell in love with Italy. Now is the right time to talk about it and tell people what really happened, without saying anything bad about anyone, because I’m not like that.

‘I want to really apologise to the Inter fans because I don’t think I should have left Inter the way I did. I should have spoken to you guys first, especially after everything you did for me, for my family, my mum, my son. I’ll never forget that.

‘I hope from the bottom of my heart to go back to Inter and not at the end of my career but when I’m still at a good enough level to win more trophies.’  

Lukaku’s last goal came in Chelsea’s FA Cup quarter-final win over Middlesbrough on March 19. Since then he has struggled to find the back of the net and has just 12 goals in 37 games this term.

The former Everton star missed a number of opportunities in Chelsea’s recent Champions League defeat at home to Real Madrid and their Premier League clash with Crystal Palace. 

Lukaku (left) could develop a formidable strike partnership with Kai Havertz (right) this season

Lukaku (left) could develop a formidable strike partnership with Kai Havertz (right) this season

Havetz has been excelling up front this season - having scored seven Premier League goals

Havetz has been excelling up front this season – having scored seven Premier League goals

However, Chelsea’s recent change in formation could benefit Lukaku. Tuchel has been deploying Mason Mount slightly deeper and opting to play a 3-5-2, with his decision to play Havertz and Christian Pulisic alongside each other up front working well during their crucial win against Burnley.

This is the same formation Antonio Conte used at Inter Milan and it saw Lukaku score 64 goals in 95 appearances in all competitions, helping the Italian side win the Serie A title for the first time in over a decade.          

Lukaku, who built a formidable strike partnership with Lautaro Martinez at Inter, should have a better chance of flourishing in a system he’s used to and it gives him a chance to develop a new relationship with one of his Chelsea team-mates.

The Belgian is confident in his ability to fit into the new formation, describing himself as ‘dangerous’ when picking up the ball going towards goal. Although some believe his build is well suited to holding the ball up in the middle, Lukaku has said he ‘hates’ playing that way.  

‘The way I’m built – I’m quite big – everybody thinks I’m a sort of target man: just holding up the ball and being a goal poacher,’ he said in an interview with UEFA last October.

Lukaku prefers to play with the ball at his feet, rather than holding it up as a target man

Lukaku prefers to play with the ball at his feet, rather than holding it up as a target man 

Reece James' return to fitness could spark more creativity within the squad and help Lukaku

Reece James’ return to fitness could spark more creativity within the squad and help Lukaku 

‘But I’ve never played that way and I hate it. My biggest strength is that I’m dangerous when I’m facing towards the goal, because that’s when I rarely make wrong choices.’

Additionally, Lukaku likes to occupy the inside-right position – picking up the ball and driving in on goal. The absence of wide forwards could give him the space to do just that.  

Reece James’ return to the squad could also help Lukaku. The 22-year-old defender, who returned to fitness in March after two months out with a hamstring injury, is responsible for a lot of Chelsea’s creativity. 

The hope is that James’ return could help Lukaku return to the standard he set at the beginning of the season when he averaged nearly four shots per 90 minutes across his first four Premier League appearances.  

Lukaku could also learn from Timo Werner, who appears to be finally rediscovering some form at Chelsea in recent weeks.

Werner produced another solid performance against Crystal Palace in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final and, prior to that, he scored in Chelsea’s Champions League win at Real Madrid and found the back twice in their 6-0 triumph over Southampton.    

Tuchel gives Lukaku instructions before sending him on during a game against Norwich City

Tuchel gives Lukaku instructions before sending him on during a game against Norwich City

Lukaku should take inspiration from Timo Werner, who has hit some form in recent weeks

Lukaku should take inspiration from Timo Werner, who has hit some form in recent weeks

But it’s Werner’s work-rate that has impressed his team-mates. ‘He’s [Werner] been brilliant since he came in at Southampton and then in Madrid,’ said Mason Mount.

‘You can see he’s full of energy. In the second half there was a moment where he missed a chance but then me and Jorginho were laughing on the bench because he sprinted all the way back to the halfway line and made a tackle.

‘That’s what we’re all about. He gives everything so I’m very pleased for him. He got me a little assist, could have had another one and he could have had a couple of goals as well. He’s done so well the past couple of games.’

Lukaku could do a lot worse than to take a leaf out of Werner’s book. Even if the goals don’t flow, an increase in energy and effort would help get the Chelsea fans back onside – and prove pundits like Hoddle wrong.

 

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