Is Chelsea Better Off Without Romelu Lukaku?

It was the football interview that shook the world. 

Romelu Lukaku, only 3 months after signing with Chelsea on a deal that would see him earn 60 million pounds over 4 years, conducts a tell-all interview, behind Chelsea’s back, outlining his passion for a return to Inter Milan as well as his unhappiness with the situation in London. 

While the contents of the interview aren’t important right now, the fact that Thomas Tuchel is less than enthused about Lukaku’s actions certainly are. 

Chelsea’s UCL winning German manager left the striker out of the matchday squad for their title eliminator against Liverpool last weekend, and while the situation does have every chance of being resolved, its left a sour taste in the mouth of so many connected with the Blues.

This begs the question: Would Chelsea actually be better without the brilliant Belgian in their ranks? 

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Been There Done That

Before we go further, we need to remember that Chelsea has won the European Cup, without Romelu Lukaku. Any notion that Chelsea desperately needs him to mount any serious threat at any success is easily disproven. As well as this, Lukaku has been injured for much of this season, and in his absence Chelsea has played some brilliant football, most notably in their 4-0 thrashing over Juventus.

Let’s look at how Chelsea attack without Lukaku, and how successful it has been this season. 

Without Lukaku, Chelsea plays with a much more fluid front three. Kai Havertz is most likely the ‘striker’ in the absence of him. But Havertz’s position is much freer, and he is given the license to drop deep and play fill space. This is because Havertz has more athleticism and better close control than Lukaku, making him available to be dangerous in tight space, especially in the half-spaces. 

One key aspect in a Lukaku-less attacking system for Chelsea is the involvement of the wingbacks. Without the Belgium upfront, the wingbacks are given license to make underlapping runs and occupy space in the box. Due to there being no crossing target, constant width and maintaining a wide position in attacking isn’t necessary. 

This has led the Chelsea wingbacks to have a profound impact on the outcome of games. As in the two months where Lukaku was out injured/coming back to fitness - the Chelsea wingbacks contributed 10 goals and assist between them in all competitions. 

The method of progressing the ball up the pitch is a lot more dynamic without Lukaku. 

Due to the likes of Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Timo Werner being quick and agile, they make runs into the channels, where they receive a ball from either the wingbacks or the centre-halves, before recycling possession through the central midfielders. This allows for interplay between the front three and more fluid movement, similar to how Manchester City operate, and usually dominate.

The lack of one clear number 9 creates a tough dynamic for opposing defences to deal with, often being confused as to who the central defenders should pick up, due to the fluid position off all the front three. 

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100 million for a reason

What Lukaku does bring to Chelsea is an obvious threat that most defences in the league struggle to deal with. 

When Lukaku plays, it’s often Mason Mount and Werner/Hudson-Odoi playing either side of him. This is because of the pace and intelligence that the latter two possess, and Mounts creativity and off-the-ball brilliance. 

When Lukaku was fit and firing, Chelsea was playing brilliant football and were top of the table at the time of his injury. As well as this, when he has come back, he’s got Chelsea out of some tough spots, most notably got them out of potential more dropped points, most notably scorning the go-ahead goal in Chelsea’s come-from-behind win against Aston Villa. 

When Lukaku starts, the build-up play is a lot more direct and predictable, despite it being incredibly efficient. Lukaku received the ball into feet, being laying it off and spinning back towards to goal. Thus, the positions that each player takes while Lukaku is on the pitch, are very different to when he isn’t. For starters, the Wingbacks stay wide, to maintain width for a potential cross, and not to crowd the box and get in Lukaku’s space. The two outside forwards would press up against the backline initially, before dropping deeper once the one hundred million pound man is in the box to create space and receive a potential layoff. 

Lukaku is the best in the world at doing his specific role. No one creates havoc as he does, and defences do not know how to handle him. He has the pace to spin in behind if necessary and is equally as deadly with a shot on the floor as in the air. While his off-the-ball pressing isn’t felt nearly as much as Werner or Havertz, what he contributes on the ball is near invaluable. Despite only scoring league goals this season, the intangible fear he makes the opposition feel and the confidence that he gives the rest of his side is extremely valuable. 

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What System is Best?

The best way to describe the difference of Chelsea play with and without Romelu Lukaku is this: Without him, they are more fluid and attractive in their attacking system. With him, they are more ruthless and direct. It all depends on how Thomas Tuchel thinks he can get the best out of his side. 

Thomas Tuchel knows that he can win without Lukaku. However, he also knows that when they are in strife and when the chips are down, he can drag them out of danger. 

At this moments in time many Chelsea fans wouldn’t care about whether they are a better side without him and would perhaps better prefer him out of the club entirely.

The absence of Lukaku provides the likes of Werner and Havertz the opportunity to truly show the Chelsea faithful what they’re made of. 

Without Lukaku, the unpredictability of Chelsea and the different dynamics that they could create with that fluid front three should be the way to go. They look an overall more dynamic outfit without Romelu Lukaku, despite losing that direct and ruthless edge. 


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Ari Stamatakos

Ari Stamatakos is a first year Media and Communications student and is majoring in Sports Media and Media Industries. He's an aspiring writer and content producer. Ari's a passionate Carlton, Melbourne Victory and Chelsea Fan. He currently writes for the Carlton fan page BlueAbroad.com.au and is the founder and host of the 'Two Footed Podcast".
He tweets at @Ari_Y_Stama.

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