Romelu Lukaku has announced his return to Chelsea with four goals in as many games. How can Tottenham prevent the Blues’ ‘main man’ from adding another this weekend?
Lukaku was labeled the ‘complete forward’ by Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness following his double in a 3-0 win over Aston Villa last Saturday, and has started racing on his return to the Premier League after scoring 47 goals in Serie A in the past two seasons with Inter. from Milan.
He has searched for the missing piece of the puzzle for Thomas Tuchel’s Champions League winners, who scored just 25 times in the 19 German league games in charge last season, and owe their best results almost entirely to a line of reinforced bottom that conceded only 15 goals in that time keeping 11 clean sheets.
The arrival of Lukaku has brought a new headache for the leaders of the opposition. The 28-year-old is a nightmare in the area, already exceeding his expected goal goal and has won more matches than almost anyone in his first three matches, all while being one of Chelsea’s best creators as well. Tuchel himself has admitted that the Blues “missed” someone of his quality.
“He’s goalscoring,” Souness said. “You have someone who can get you goals out of nowhere. I think he’s close enough to the full forward, he’s not brilliant at anything, he’s very good at everything.”
Pablo Mari of Arsenal took to the clean-up when trying to face Lukaku on his debut, but is so willing to punish defenders that they give him space, as he demonstrated with his touch and fabulous shot for Chelsea’s third against Villa .
Tottenham manager Nuno Espirito Santo has already outplayed a tough rival at Manchester City this season, and now how does he manage to keep the great Belgian at bay when they go head-to-head? Sky Sports Premier League at #GameZero this weekend?
In his last season in Italy, Lukaku surprised almost everyone, scoring 24 goals in 36 games, but three teams managed to control Inter’s main attacking threat. In matches with Hellas Verona, Atalanta and Udinese, the forward struggled to maintain control of the ball, only managed one shot and, most importantly, did not score.
How they did it? All three sides played with three-man baselines, allowing them to engage one player to specifically deal with the threat from the striker without becoming unbalanced at the rear.
In contrast to Arsenal, who operated with four defenders, Lukaku outlasted Mari in Chelsea’s opener before falling deeper for the second, where Granit Xhaka compromised and was unable to tackle him, making room for Mason Mount to help Reece. James. The gunners fought to decide whose responsibility it was to deal with Lukaku and they paid the price.
Nuno is no stranger to playing back three, but this particular weekend he might find it a logistical headache; Japhet Tanganga is suspended, Eric Dier doubts an injury and Cristian Romero is trapped in Croatia in quarantine until Saturday. However, there is already talk that the Argentine defender can count, and that he can take advantage of his own performance in that Atalanta clash in March, when his rhythm and conscience earned him four of his five games against Lukaku.
Get tight, cut your options
Atalanta arguably executed the perfect defensive performance against Lukaku in that game at San Siro. Milan Skriniar scored the winning goal with Inter’s only shot on goal from a corner, but in open play their attacking threat was chained more effectively than any other team handled last season, so the Spurs can wanting to emulate his approach on Sunday.
His secret was both personal and tactical. Berat Djimsiti was tasked with tracking down Lukaku, who would often drop deep to pick up the ball, but was never given space or time with him. The 6-foot-3 Albanian defender tried to win the first ball each time, but if he couldn’t, he made sure to get close to his man.
That annoyance and harassment played a major role in keeping Lukaku uncomfortable and denied him the time to choose attacking options or turn and run towards Atalanta’s defense. He lost possession 26 times in that game, by far his highest record of the season.
In terms of physical strength, that may be a role that lends itself to 6-foot-4-inch Joe Rodon, who is still shy from the Premier League experience but took a step forward after Dier’s injury against him. Crystal Palace last weekend, and they won a higher percentage of their games than anyone else. another Spurs defender last season.
Another tactical detail called for keeping the men close to Lukaku and Djimsiti to counter the threat of the second balls. The forward created 52 chances for others last season, more than any other Inter player, so it was crucial to deny him a chance to target his strength to feed his teammates.
When the ball was played at Lukaku, Atalanta’s players were aware of the threats posed by those around him, and his denied proactive defense prevented him from creating a single opportunity for his team, a true rarity.
That was also Udinese’s approach to their goalless draw with Inter. As shown above, with Kevin Bonifazi given the job of staying close to the forward, midfielder Walace was conscious of getting to this break before Lautaro Martinez could receive the ball in what would have been a dangerous area. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, a tenacious operator and the Spurs player who made the most comebacks last season, could be the perfect fit for the role.
If you can’t beat it, it’s a foul
There will be times against such a talented forward like Lukaku, and a team as good as Chelsea, when you can’t pin him down perfectly, or track down one of his many running backs.
The dark arts can come into play then: In that game with Verona, another in which Lukaku failed to register a single shot and completed just seven passes from the final third, he was fouled five times, a peak season. Four of them came from central Giangiacomo Magnani, the defender in charge of stopping him by any means necessary.
Tactical fouls are no secret and especially against a player with Lukaku’s explosive power, they can provide significant defensive relief. In his draw with Udinese, defender Samir was booked after realizing his man was about to turn at half-time, and knocked Lukaku to the ground. The alternative may have been much more painful than a yellow card.
Tottenham can also be relatively calm about the Chelsea set-piece threat. Despite regularly having three great center-backs on the field, they have only scored three goals on free throws since the start of last season.
Stay alert at the counter
Lukaku doesn’t have the pace levels of Adama Traore, but he’s certainly not far behind. His speed combined with his strength offers Chelsea a dangerous option on the counterattack, and Tottenham’s defense will need to be alert to avoid being stomped on their heels by any ball from behind.
This is where Nuno hopes to have Romero available, as the Argentine can draw inspiration from his own performance against Lukaku for Atalanta last season. At one point in the second half, Lukaku outscored Rafael Toloi with a forward ball and was clean on goal with a 15-yard start over Romero, but was unable to shoot due to the pace of the defender’s recovery run.
That was one of the two times in the game that Romero’s pace and quick thinking denied Lukaku when the forward appeared in goal, an advantage that could prove critical for Spurs if Chelsea are looking to go straight to their goal. number nine anytime.
Whatever staff are at Nuno’s disposal, they will have to do everything possible to prevent Lukaku from continuing his sensational start since his return to Chelsea. Designing a game plan on the training ground to stop it is one thing, implementing it on the field is quite another.