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Romelu Lukaku


Chelsea Striker Crisis (Part 2): The Alternatives

Romelu Lukaku

The first part of this series looked into the problem with the current strikers (Torres & Demba Ba) at the club, Statistically and Tactically analysing their play so far. Click here to view the first part.

There are solutions to the above problems which involve both transfers and coaching. While the demons in Torres’ head may be exorcised by analysis and sessions with the man to show him his weakness, it is probably presumptuous to think that such efforts haven’t already been made by the multitude of capable managers who have tried to solve the riddle. Ba, on the other hand poses a slightly different challenge. The big striker is new, and while a slow start may have been attributed to settling down time, there is no doubt about the fact that he has been as good/bad as Fernando Torres. He, of course offers a very different threat, and this adds to his utility, but a return of 1 goal in every 240 minutes of football is not acceptable for a striker at this level.

So, unless the duo can do enough to convince the Chelsea hierarchy to give them another chance next season, the Stamford Bridge faithful will probably be looking to a new man up front next season.

As a club with no real shortage of money, Chelsea can probably look to the best of the very best on offer across Europe. With that in mind, we look at some of the top strikers, and compare them. I will look at Cavani, Falcao and Lewandowski primarily. Along with those top strikers, we also look at the in-house talent Chelsea possess, namely Romelu Lukaku, and his viability.

The biggest problem has of course been scoring goals, and the solution to this can be provided by any of the big names on the list. With a combined 62 league goals between them, this shouldn’t be a problem. Lukaku on the other hand, has managed only 13 goals, but has done so in very different circumstances. While the above strikers have averaged a goal every 106 (Cavani), 105 (Lewandowski) and 101 minutes (Falcao), Lukaku isn’t far behind with a goal every 110 minutes. In comparison to his respected peers across the continent, this figure isn’t great, but when compared to the top dogs at home, the record is very good. Suarez and van Persie have managed to score every 118, and 117 minutes respectively, and nearer home at Chelsea, he steamrolls Torres and Ba, who average 294 and 240 minutes respectively.

As for the style of play, Lukaku certainly brings more variety to the table than Lewandowski for sure, as the Pole probably cannot match up to the Belgian’s physical prowess. Even Cavani and Falcao, who are surely both very good at physical duels, don’t really measure up favourably against the former Anderlecht player. Falcao stands at 177 cm tall, and has a BMI of 23, while Cavani is significantly taller at 188 cm, but less hefty, with a BMI of 20.1. These attributes are very impressive, but Lukaku trumps both the big names with a very high (albeit slightly overweight) BMI of 26, despite standing at 190 cm tall. Just for the record, this is better than Chelsea legend, and generally accepted physical brute Didier Drogba as well, who stands at 188 cm, and has a BMI of 23.8 (though the Ivorian has aged now).This means that he is taller than the aforementioned duo, and far more powerful than them too, aiding his ability to outmuscle defenders, and win physical battles against them.

Surprisingly, this hasn’t resulted in a higher duel win percentage, with Lukaku having won only 46% of his aerial duels. While this is better than the other strikers on this list (Falcao 45%, Cavani 42% and Lewandowski 40%), it indicates that his technique is probably not as refined as that of the others. This again is something that the man will learn with experience (at 19, he’s the youngest on the list). This could also be because Falcao plays in a league which attaches far less importance to physicality and aerial ability than the Premier League.

In terms of his ability as a finisher, Lukaku has come in leaps and bounds. The player has scored 13 goals in his 27 appearances, averaging one every 110 minutes. The best part is, that of the 13, he has scored 4 with his right foot, 5 with his left, 3 with his head, and one with other parts of his body. This means that he is very dexterous, and capable with both feet, as well as his head. However, this capability needs to be converted into something more, as he is way behind the other strikers on this list in terms of converting his shots on target into goals. His conversion rate, i.e. the ratio of goals to shots on target is 34%, which is an impressive figure, but it lags behind Falcao (53%) and Lewandowski (46%). He trails Cavani, RvP and Surez marginally, who are at 35%, 37% and 37% respectively. If he is to mature into a world class striker eventually, he will have to work hard and improve this stat.

The modern day striker is also one who has a huge role to play in the overall team performance as well. Looking purely in an attacking sense, he is also expected to run the channels, draw defenders out of place in order to create space in the middle, hold up the ball to set up his colleagues, and provide them with chances of their own. Given his restricted playing time, Lukaku has done reasonably well on this scale. He has provided 2 assists, and played 19 key passes. While his Premier League rivals make this look measly (RvP has 8 assists and 42 key passes, while Suarez has 4 assists, and a monstrous 74 key passes), this isn’t too bad when compared to his peers on the continent. Cavani has 2 assists, and 24 key passes, Falcao has 1 assist and 25 key passes, while Lewandowski has 5 assists, and 22 key passes, all with much greater playing time, and (with all due respect) ‘better’ team mates.

In the role Lukaku will play, it is imperative that he is able to set up team mates. If he starts as the big target man, his job will be to push defenders deeper, and create space between the lines for the “Three Amigos” to work in. This happens because when dealing with a burly forward like Lukaku, defenders sometimes move a few yards deeper to gain a running jump. In order to keep the line and gain an upper hand on runners, the rest of the defence has to drop off as well. Such a backward movement creates space between the lines. It also forces opposing midfielders back, and allows the Chelsea midfield to dominate proceedings. In the recent Chelsea- West Ham game, Carroll caused Chelsea problems as he pushed their line deep, and this created chances for those around him. In this way, Lukaku offers a potential threat and tactical diversity through his pace and power.

The black arrows indicate the movement of the defenders. The blue arrows indicate the space created by the movement of the defenders. (Made at Tactics Creator Web App on our site, click here to make your own!)

The black arrows indicate the movement of the defenders. The blue arrows indicate the space created by the movement of the defenders. (Made at Tactics Creator Web App on our site, click here to make your own!)

While stats and numbers are very important, a player is made up of much more. Therefore, a deeper introspection of psychological, and financial aspects is required.

All the other forwards mentioned in this list are big stars, and certainly will carry a fair bit of ‘star attitude’, as they come into a dressing room where they will have to compete for the limelight and attention, as opposed to their old clubs, where they were more or less the show stoppers. Lukaku certainly doesn’t suffer from such problems, as he is still beginning his career, and is hungry to earn a name for himself. His refusal to take the Champions League trophy, after his admission that he didn’t deserve it as he had no part to play in its capture reflects his attitude, and desire to succeed, rather than just pick up the pieces. Even apart from this, he has shown a great attitude to training, and as any great athlete will tell you, training is the most important part of the game. Even his coaches at West Brom have affirmed that he is a real hard working player.

“He’s a real worker and what he achieves doesn’t come by chance but through endeavour.” – Keith Downing, West Brom assistant manager

He is also a Chelsea supporter, and this might just be a good thing, as one can expect him to show passion while representing his club on the field.

Of all the contenders, Lukaku is probably the best bet for Chelsea. He is only 19, and already very good. Financially, they will not have to fork over a huge amount of cash for him. He has settled down into Premier League football well, and is a hard working player. He has the physical attributes to do well, with power to hold off any defender, and pace to run in behind too. The numbers reveal that he does have the talent, and if he gets chances to play regularly with players like Mata, Hazard and Oscar behind him, we can certainly expect a few goals.

Notes:  Some of the stats have been rounded off (Eg: minutes per goal). This was done for convenience. In case you require exact figures, do get in touch!

All stats via Featured image via

Vishal Patel

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