Romelu Lukaku has been a Chelsea player since 2011 but has rarely featured in a Chelsea uniform. The oft-loaned forward has been linked with moves away from Stamford Bridge yet again this summer, but manager Jose Mourinho could finally be ready to give him a chance in the 2014-15 season.
According to the Mirror's Neil Moxley, Mourinho is willing to give Lukaku a look in training camp ahead of Chelsea's upcoming season.
"The plan is that Romelu will join up with us at some stage during the second week when we are in Holland," said assistant coach Steve Holland, per Moxley.
Lukaku has been loaned to West Bromwich Albion and Everton the past two seasons, and the Merseyside squad could be in for his services on a more permanent basis. According to the Daily Mail's Dominic King, Roberto Martinez is quite keen on signing the 21-year-old.
Mourinho clearly hasn't favored Lukaku in the past, but his team could use the burly Belgian's combination of pace, power and youth in the strike force.
The Special One clearly grew frustrated with Chelsea's substandard striking options last season.
"We are not a team full of talent to score goals, especially at this level. But you never know. We have to try. We have to go with everything. Let's try," he said in April of 2014, via a report from ESPN UK.
This was likely a referendum on the ineffectual play of Torres, who's been a letdown ever since he arrived at Chelsea. The Spaniard scored nine goals in 21 starts between Premier League and Champions League play last season, but none in his 16 substitute appearances.
Mourinho must have initially believed he solved his woes with Diego Costa, who could very well be the starter next season. However, with Torres the only other proper striker on the squad and unable to make an impact as a sub, the team isn't exactly flush with scoring options up top.
Lukaku could easily solve this problem. He scored 15 goals in EPL play last season with Everton and 17 with West Bromwich Albion in 2012-13. Moreover, he averaged 3.2 shots per game as compared to Torres' 2.2. His ability to generate volume in attack could make him a serviceable backup or a strong partner with Costa.
His physicality and utility as a substitute was on full display in Belgium's World Cup victory over the United States, setting up his team's opening goal and scoring one of his own in extra time as a substitute. USA goalkeeper Tim Howard noted him as a game-changing force.
"They brought big Rom on and he was a handful, he ran at us, scored a goal, created chances for other guys," said Howard, via a report from AFP (h/t FIFA.com). "Big Rom changed the game."
EPL Stat Man gave a visual breakdown of Lukaku's goals in 2012-13:
Lukaku also showed an ability to get involved in buildup play with Everton, averaging 25.5 passes per game and notching six assists. However, his pass accuracy (66.5 percent) was well behind Costa's mark (75.5 percent in La Liga) with Atletico Madrid, suggesting the young forward still has work to do in terms of consistency.
Costa is a very durable player, although he did struggle with hamstring issues at the end of last season. This could give Mourinho a false sense of security, and it could also stymie Lukaku's development.
Still, his potential in the air late in games and proven goal-scoring ability would be welcome on a team that is packed with excellent midfielders such as Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard. His development has been everything a top team could ask of a young player, and he deserves a chance.
Mourinho has favored relentless, defensive tactics in the past, but his best squads have featured star forwards such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba. Lukaku certainly has the look of a Drogba-like striker, but he needs top-flight games in a Chelsea uniform to prove that point.
It can still be a successful season for the Blues without Lukaku in the fold, but Mourinho puts the team in danger of lacking striking options for the expected assault on multiple fronts—Champions League, Premier League and perhaps cup tournaments—late in the campaign.
Note: All stats courtesy of WhoScored.com unless otherwise noted.
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