Chelsea FC: How Should the Blues Handle Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois?

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Chelsea FC: How Should the Blues Handle Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

An argument could be made Chelsea are "Belgium-West" or could Belgium be "Chelsea-East?" In any event, the success or failure of each footballing enterprise relies heavily upon the bright futures of three men: Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.

Since 2011, the Blues have dealt with their Belgian nucleus in four different ways.

Hazard has been fully integrated, becoming the squad's most important player. The shifty winger earned 2013-14 PFA Young Player of the Year honours, adding the Chelsea Player of the Year award to his mantlepiece as well.

Clive Mason/Getty Images
Unlike a number of their loanees, Romelu Lukaku has actually worn Chelsea's kit.
Lukaku has enjoyed sporadic moments in Chelsea blue, registering 10 league appearances with zero goals. Most of his time has been spent on two season-long loan spells with West Bromwich Albion and Everton—logging an impressive 32 goals in 66 Premier League appearances.

Not to be outdone in the loan department, Courtois has been a permanent figure with Atletico Madrid for three seasons. His Spanish stay has made him arguably the best under-23 goalkeeper in the world and has put Petr Cech's normally automatic credentials under serious threat.

The fourth member of Chelsea's Belgian contingent was Kevin De Bruyne. Jose Mourinho and the winger came to the realisation a move would be beneficial for both parties; De Bruyne was then sold to VfL Wolfsburg for an alleged sum of £16 million, per Sky Sports' Kristof Terreur, in January.

With Hazard incorporated and De Bruyne sold, the focus has shifted to the duo at either end of the pitch.

At 22 years old—with more than 200 professional and international appearances—Courtois has proved his ability to play senior football and would have little problem transitioning between Stamford Bridge's goalposts.

The issue Mourinho faces is determining the petrol left in Cech's tank.

Clive Rose/Getty Images
Petr Cech is Chelsea's sixth all-time leader in appearances with 478.

Goalkeepers' lifespans are more reptilian than mammalian; they can play at high levels until their late 30s and early 40s. To this point, Cech, 32, found himself in the 2013-14 PFA Premier League Team of the Year.

Courtois, however, may be too great a prospect to risk unsettling. The removal or benching of Cech may be premature, but does Mourinho gamble the next dozen years of goalie security on—at best—three seasons of Cech's form holding?

The best solution is one Courtois does not want. Per BBC Sport, the young keeper cannot envision playing a reduced role in a team. One might admire the arrogance, but the 22-year-old should find a Chelsea history book, a spare hour and read. His now-rival, Cech, was in a similar situation with Carlo Cudicini.

Chelsea's 2002 Player of the Year injured himself during the 2004 pre-season, and Mourinho put new signing Cech into the starting XI—the Czech international played well and has not relinquished his position in 10 years. 

Coming off shoulder surgery, though, Cech may be in the same position Cudicini was a decade previous—an injured mainstay with the future lurking in wait.

It would stand to reason both Cech and Courtois will be in Mourinho's plans. Hilario has left, leaving Jamal Blackman and the 41-year-old Mark Schwarzer as the only present cover.

Clive Rose/Getty Images
After three years at Atletico Madrid, Thibaut Courtois may have done enough to change fortunes in 2014-15.
Chelsea's best option would be to play Courtois in the Premier League and Cech in cup matches, keeping both fresh, both interested, both engaged and—one would presume—both saving shots.

In the Blues' attacking third, shot-saving is another issue of sorts. The ink spilt over Stamford Bridge's striking woes the past three years could fill an Olympic swimming pool.

Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto'o found it difficult to score goals last season, and if Chelsea have any hope of lifting silverware in 2014-15, the problem must be rectified.

Urged by Mourinho, Blues owner Roman Abramovich has opened his wallet for one striking solution in Diego Costa. Looking to copy his Atletico Madrid form in west London, the Spanish international will be given every opportunity to succeed, but rarely is one striker enough.

Torres and Ba have become tertiary options in the minds of many, so who should be Costa's back-up?

Some have posed Mario Mandzukic, others Emmanuel Emenike; even the return of Didier Drogba has been suggested. These rumours may indicate Mourinho's solution is not in-house but still to be bought.

Although, one might imagine Lukaku raising his hand to ask: "You guys know I'm still here, right?"

Michael Regan/Getty Images
New season, new strike force needed. Welcome to west London.

The Belgian forward has been terrific during his past 24 months on loan and deserves at least a share of Chelsea's "No. 9" spot.

Whether Mourinho is willing to give Lukaku his opportunity remains to be seen. What has not remained shadowed, however, is the world's interest in Chelsea's precocious 21-year-old striker: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham and Everton have been linked among others, as reported by Ben Jefferson of the Daily Express.

Valued by TransferMarkt at £22 million and buoyed by competition, the Blues would easily be able to recoup the near £20 million they paid Anderlecht in 2011.

Mourinho has another gut decision to make: Lukaku—and eventually Courtois—could become a featured member of the Chelsea first team like Hazard, or he could suffer the same fate as De Bruyne.

What should Chelsea do with Courtois and Lukaku?

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An optimal outcome would include the sale of Torres or Ba, Chelsea buying/promoting a smaller, mercurial poacher while maintaining the two-punch, heavyweight combination of Lukaku and Costa.

Courtois' and Lukaku's market values may not plummet over the next 12 months, but their faith and confidence will should they, again, be left on the outside looking in.

Chelsea Football Club must decide to secure its future, rather than impulsively react to growing pains or reach for quick fixes.

The first two steps in the club's process would be keeping—and playing—their tall, talkative, talented and oft-loaned Belgian internationals.

 

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