Chelsea were second-best in a 0-0 stalemate against Manchester United on Monday night, with the visitors failing to work David De Gea or look like a real threat in attack. With much of the pre-game hype surrounding Wayne Rooney and the west London club’s hunt for a new top-class striker, another potential 20-goal-a-season forward cut a forlorn figure on the visitors’ bench.
José Mourinho has started three different players as the furthest man forward in his side’s opening three Premier League games. Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and André Schürrle have failed to hit the net in the opening 270 minutes of the new campaign, while Romelu Lukaku sits on the sidelines waiting for a starting berth to prove himself for the Stamford Bridge club.
Mourinho confirmed after the Old Trafford stalemate that a new forward would be added to the Blues’ squad before the close of the transfer window, whether it was Rooney or someone else. His comments must come as a real source of frustration for the Belgian sensation, who many, including myself, tipped to play a significant role in the west London club’s quest for honours this term.
The selection of Schürrle to play in a false nine position against United was a baffling one by Mourinho, and one that ultimately proved ineffective. Naturally the hosts had the bulk of possession and with the Germany international as the furthest man forward the visitors had no out ball.
Schürrle failed to hold-up possession when the ball was played into him and allowed United to instantly start a new attack. It is not the former Bayer Leverkusen man’s fault – he was playing out of position and would have been more comfortable and progressive in one of the attacking midfielder roles.
The continued deployment of an underperforming Fernando Torres seems to be out of duty to an astonishing transfer fee and built around the reputation that the Spaniard forged in his time at Atletico Madrid and Liverpool. Although the Spain international has improved since the distinctly mediocre performances that categorised his early days at the club, Lukaku offers much more of a threat than Torres.
Lukaku’s 17 Premier League goals while on loan at West Brom last term (while only starting 20 games) are an indication of what the 20-year-old is capable of. Fernando Torres scored eight Premier League goals in 36 appearances last season. The Belgian prodigy would surely meet and surpass 17 strikes this campaign if given a steady run in the team, especially with his side dominating games and with the supply from top-class midfielders and wingers.
Chelsea have lacked an out-and-out predator since letting Didier Drogba leave the club last summer. Quite rightly Lukaku has been likened to the Ivory Coast international, and has all the potential to be just as lethal as his predecessor.
With all the intricate play, quick feet and deft passes that the Chelsea attacking midfielders offer, a direct, cut and thrust player is needed in the striker position. Drogba was there repeatedly over the years to outmuscle defenders and convert clever and creative play from his team-mates. Chelsea need a new man to replicate the feat. Lukaku is that man – he just needs a chance.
Lukaku’s pace offers a threat in behind defences that none of the other candidates possess, which will mean opposition rearguards will drop deep to compensate and allow the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar et al more space to reap destruction.
He has the strength to hold the ball up and his link-up play is excellent. He is mobile, powerful and good in the air – and has proven that he can score consistently when given a run of games. All these attributes are superior to what Torres offers, who is currently seemingly ahead of the Belgian in Mourinho’s pecking order.
If Lukaku is forced to rot away on the bench and in the reserves this season, it is a complete waste of talent. Chelsea should be looking to him to be their focal point of an unbelievably able attacking third – he would not look out of place.
If Mourinho decides that others will be preferred to Lukaku, the 20-year-old should be let go out on loan again, as at this stage in his career he needs regular first-team football to continue his development.