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Chelsea: Why has Romelu Lukaku struggled at the Blues?

Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku | Liverpool v Chelsea live stream
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Chelsea expected Romelu Lukaku to simply bring his Inter Milan form in a bag back to Stamford Bridge. Instrumental in two straight Scudetti, the Belgian was one of the most feared strikers in Europe.

But not anymore. Losing his place to Kai Havertz in the Blues' line-up, the youngest overseas player to hit 100 Premier League goals has looked a ghost of the player who lit up the pitch for West Brom, Everton and, in spells, Manchester United, when he first played in England.

So's what's wrong with Rom? And why can't the Blues rekindle this form?

1. Chelsea don't play to Romelu Lukaku's strengths

Thomas Tuchel has set Chelsea up in a very idiosyncratic way. Throughout his time in London, the German has favoured goal threats cutting across diagonally – whether that's a wing-back or the wide players in the front three.

The Blues don't get many players forward anyway but Lukaku's job at times for the European champions has simply been to get out of the way of other attackers. Havertz thrives in the space invader role: Lukaku does not. 

There's more to the forward role than meets the eye at Chelsea and at Inter, the Belgian was front, centre and firmly in the spotlight. Lautaro Martinez was there to support him rather than the other way round. At the Bridge, Lukaku is one of a few superstar forwards. It's markedly different. 

2. He's been injured

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel and striker Romelu Lukaku embrace

(Image credit: Getty)

Lukaku started the season brightly, bullying Arsenal in August and showing his mettle as the weather turned colder and Chelsea led the table. 

But then he dropped out of the side with a sprain. When he did come back into the fold, the striker came off the bench to build his fitness back up, only to suffer COVID. He came back against Villa and Brighton… and then everything kicked off with his infamous Sky Italia interview.

Five goals in the league all season doesn't account for his absences. You get an appearance for eight minutes off the bench, too – like he had against Manchester United – so perhaps some of the stats are against him. 

3. Lukaku's not happy in London

It's pure speculation, of course. The forward gave an interview with Sky Italia which dropped after Christmas, saying that he wasn't happy at Chelsea and wanted to return to Inter before he was too old. 

Perhaps part of Lukaku's struggle this season has been in adapting to life off the pitch as much as on. The Belgian was happy in Milan, reportedly didn't want to force a move, content to remain at the San Siro. The criticism must get to you and it's a big change to come to a club like Chelsea. Maybe it affected him. 

4. He's simply not reached full confidence yet

There have been plenty of moments where Romelu Lukaku has looked like his old self. But others where he's looked like the Lukaku of the last few months at Old Trafford. 

On occasion at Chelsea, the likes of Mount, Ziyech and Pulisic have done all the hard work, only for Lukaku not to make the decisive run towards the ball, found the space necessary or busted a gut to get into the box. We know he can do it: he's done it hundreds of times.

Football is a game of momentum and strikers rely on confidence and good habits. Sometimes this season, Lukaku hasn't had that momentum: it's what has led Havertz to get the nod ahead of him. 

5. …He's actually not been that bad

Romelu Lukaku

(Image credit: Getty)

11 goals in 33 appearances looks like an average return – but it's actually a goal every 196 minutes. That's one just over every other game.

Considering the injury crisis that Chelsea have had, his own struggles with fitness, COVID, the chop-and-change dynamic of Tuchel's team and the off-field settling in period, that's not a horrendous return: certainly not bad enough to make too a fuss over. 

Chelsea have had a lot of problems this season – but surely Lukaku is one player too good to worry to much about.

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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. Over his time on the brand, he has interviewed the likes of Aaron Ramsdale and Jack Wilshere, written pieces ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career, and has been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals, working for FFT