Romelu Lukaku is once again a Chelsea player.
Yep, for the ripe old price of €115m (£97.5m to us British folk), the 28-year-old is back gracing the Premier League’s shores after a two-year adventure in Italy with Inter.
Not only has Lukaku’s time in Milan allowed him to find himself again – and the goal, for that matter – it’s allowed the Belgian to reinvent himself as one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, most feared strikers.
In truth, he’d never really lost it, but because of a few bad first touches at Manchester United and an obsession with his size and shape, Lukaku was weirdly hounded out of the division and labelled as a bit of an overweight flop.
Nevertheless, 47 Serie A goals and a first Scudetto for Inter since 2009 later, he’s back in blue, restarting a love affair with Chelsea that began a decade ago. There’s huge anticipation over how he’ll fare at Stamford Bridge second time around, but we really didn’t want to wait a whole nine months to find out how good he’ll be.
So we didn’t.
Instead, 90min fired up man’s best friend (Football Manager 2021, for those of an alien persuasion) to quickly whizz through his first season back in England. How did he fare? Like this…
It’s important to note that marrying up exact dates on a Football Manager simulation is, well, impossible. So Lukaku got to enjoy a bit of a pre-season in this virtual world.
He did pretty well, too, bagging three goals in five friendly games – though one of those strikes came in a defeat against Barcelona, who we financially crippled and stripped of Lionel Messi just because we could.
The first day of the season offered a slightly rogue glimpse of how Chelsea could line up with Lukaku, as Thomas Tuchel curiously stuffed Hakim Ziyech in a central midfield two alongside N’Golo Kante. Weirdly, it worked wonders, as Lukaku was allowed to strut his stuff in a devastating front four that included Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic, with Ziyech adding further creative impetus from deep.
Premier League champs Manchester City were the opponents, but they were no match for the Blues or Lukaku – who bagged a sensational hat-trick in a 4-1 win. Watch out Crystal Palace or Arsenal, whomever he faces first in the real world…
A debut to remember was then followed by a London derby win over Arsenal, in their own backyard too…
Unfortunately for the Blues, the bubble would eventually burst. Though Lukaku would score two more and help Chelsea top the table after seven games, defeat to Everton at Goodison Park would trigger a rather uninspiring run of Premier League results.
There was even a Carabao Cup defeat to Salford thrown in for good measure, which is certainly not what any doctor would have ordered. The patchy form continued until the halfway mark of the Premier League, where Chelsea found themselves sixth after 19 games played.
Lukaku, however, was living up to the billing from a personal point of view. 10 Premier League goals in 18 games? Woof.
Over in the Europa League (Chelsea hadn’t qualified for the Champions League in the first season we had to blitz through, don’t blame us), Lukaku was having more fun.
The Blues qualified top of their group, and Lukaku scored three goals in six group games. Decent stuff and progression through to the knockout stages.
Now, rather than provide you with chapter and verse of how the second half of the campaign went, we’ll simply cut to the chase.
Lukaku proved he was a fitness machine throughout the campaign, and continued to find the net with regularity – more so in the cup competitions, it must be said.
But he did still terrorise Premier League defences and finished the season as the division’s second top scorer (with 17), narrowly missing out on the golden boot to Arsenal striker Pedro (who plays for Flamengo in real life, in case you’re wondering who the hell that is).
Unfortunately, Chelsea couldn’t muster better than a fifth place finish, but they did serve up a treat elsewhere. Propped up by the goals of Lukaku and Kai Havertz, the Europa League run ended in yet more continental success – saving Tuchel’s bacon to earn a trophy and Champions League qualification.
There was also an appearance in the FA Cup final, but the less said about the result the better…
But what matters in this experiment, ultimately, is how Lukaku got on.
In all competitions, he netted 26 goals, and was called upon by Tuchel to play from the start in pretty much every game possible. Werner was used out wide, similar to how he could be in real life, and Havertz excelled throughout playing in the hole.
Add in the fact that Lukaku played 23 times for Belgium (PARDON?!) and scored 11 goals, he totalled an incredible 75 appearances and 37 goals.
He won’t achieve that figure in real life, no, but it’s safe to say that Lukaku is going to score goals and lots of them. Enjoy having him back in the Premier League, let’s just hope we all appreciate him a little bit more this time around…