Romelu Lukaku joined Chelsea, aged just 18, for a fee of around £13 million, potentially rising to £18 million with add-ons last summer. The huge fee at such a young age might have raised eyebrows, but this was a player who at just 16 years of age, was the Jupiter League’s top scorer in 2010-11.
Lukaku struggled to break into the side last season with Chelsea, mustering only eight league appearances, most of which were as a sub. With Drogba, Torres and Sturridge ahead of him, chances were few and far between, in a season that Lukaku was undoubtedly disappointed with, taking no joy in the clubs Champions League victory.
This season however, he has enjoyed a good period on loan at West Brom. Starting just seven games he has managed a very impressive seven goals. His all round performances have also been impressive, bullying defenders, as well as offering a goal threat. The 19 year old striker now looks to be showing the potential we were not able to witness last season, clearly benefiting from more first team football.
I have used other Premier League goal scorers from this season, as well as Drogba from the 09/10 season where he was the league’s top scorer:
|Goals||Mins per goal||Shooting accuracy||Mins per chance created||Mins per loss of possession||Clear chance conversion|
More importantly though, is the comparison between Torres and Lukaku. Lukaku looks to be the more impressive of the two, with superior minutes per goal ratio as well as having lost the ball less frequently. In fact, Torres is inferior to Lukaku in every aspect considered here. With regards to Ba, he is clearly someway above Lukaku at the moment, with an impressive goal scoring record. Despite the fact his ‘mins per goals’ rate is lower, he has consistently scored goals, with a vastly superior ‘clear chance conversion’. This is a stat Lukaku definitely has to improve, as he has not been as clinical as Baggies fans might have liked this season, spurning some big opportunities in the Fulham game for instance.
Lukaku is the youngest striker listed here, at just 19, but fairs relatively well when we consider his age and relative inexperience to these other strikers. Most striking is how poor Balotelli has been; he has had fewer appearances in the league but only has three goals in a total of 15 appearances in all competitions. Further to this, Balotelli lost the ball more than any other player listed and has the worst ‘clear cut chance conversion.’
Lukaku’s short term prospects
Lukaku has definitely shone in the first half of this season, scoring seven in seven starts, as many as Torres and Rooney have scored in the Premier League. With Chelsea’s current striking problems, one would imagine he has a bright future at the club. The signing of Ba on a three and a half year deal, however, means that another striker is a head of him in the pecking order. Further to this, Chelsea’s pursuit of a ‘marquee’ striker such as Cavani and Falcao will probably persist into the summer, further limiting the short term opportunities at Chelsea for a young up-and-coming striker.
The striker himself has said he’d like to remain on loan next season, which would probably be wise as game time would be limited at Chelsea. Chelsea play one up top and if they sign a forward (as I suspect they will) there would also be Ba in his way and potentially Torres, if he remains at the club, meaning that Lukaku would be the fourth choice striker. In a 4-4-2 this would be fine, but three or four strikers vying for one slot will produce very limited opportunities for Lukaku who really needs to play regularly at his age.
In the long term, if he continues at this rate, the sky is conceivably the limit. Lukaku is a big, powerful striker, not dissimilar to Drogba, who can provide a long ball outlet as well as use the ball on the deck. He can consistently be scene bullying defenders and powering into the opposition box, this provides an incredibly useful outlet if a side opts for a direct style of play. His finishing will have to improve however, from 22% clear chance conversion, to nearer to the levels of RvP and Demba Ba, two of this season’s most prolific goal scorers. This is certainly likely though, as at just 19, he is still quite raw.
One drawback is, he is not the most technical player at the moment, but, he has time on his side to improve this and no doubt will at West Brom. West Brom play the ball on the floor frequently and look to pass it around, which require a good amount of technical ability from the players. Further to this they opt for one up top which will certainly help Lukaku work on his link play. It is of course important to remember, he is not yet the number one striker at West Brom, with Shane Long currently the no.1 striker, although there has been increased rotation of late. Lukaku will need to make that West Bromwich strikers spot his own before he can think about his long term prospects at Chelsea. The main issue for him is that if the club sign Falcao, he could be the no.1 striker at the club for some time. With Chelsea’s often inconsistent and incoherent transfer policy, it is always a risky place for young players to attempt to emerge, that being said, if Lukaku keeps improving he won’t be able to be ignored.
Right now Lukaku is certainly one of the most promising strikers in the Premier League. His current strike rate is very impressive, but he’ll need to sustain this over the course of the season. Further to this, as noted above, his ‘clear chance conversion’ or essentially close range finish should be improved as he can often squander some good opportunities, as he did at times versus Fulham last week.
That being said, nobody can deny his potential and Chelsea fans will be eagerly watching his progress, hoping that long term he can make it at Stamford Bridge. For any young player to join Chelsea there is of course always a risk and with that in mind continuing his loan spell with West Brom, or another club, into next season is the best short term bet for Lukaku and his progress.