How Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel can get the best out of Romelu Lukaku

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 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

First Antonio Conte – now Romelu Lukaku.

Chelsea’s club record £97.5million striker knows precisely how to get the best out of himself – now it is up to Thomas Tuchel to follow suit.

In an interview this week, Lukaku said: “The way I’m built – I’m quite big – everybody thinks I’m a sort of target man: just holding up the ball and being a goal poacher.

“But I’ve never played that way and I hate it. My biggest strength is that I’m dangerous when I’m facing towards the goal, because that’s when I rarely make wrong choices.

“After I pass the ball, I know where I have to position myself in the box.”

After making such a flying start to his Chelsea career, Lukaku has cut a frustrated figure in recent weeks.

Too much of his game has been with his back to goal, dropping deep and getting little service in the box.

That was never more evident than in defeat to Manchester City last month.

Lukaku may have the strength to hold off defenders – but he is far more effective when spinning and testing their pace by forcing them to run towards their own goal.

That was perfectly demonstrated on his debut against Arsenal when he gave Pablo Mari such a torrid time.

That is Lukaku at his most dangerous – but it is the Lukaku that we are seeing increasingly less of as the weeks go by.

When Tuchel went in search of a top-class centre forward in the summer, he wanted the Lukaku of Inter Milan, not the Lukaku of Manchester United.

In the Belgian’s final season at Old Trafford, he was a shadow of the player he was before and after his time at the club.

United’s counter-attacking football under Jose Mourinho often left him stranded as a lone frontman, who would be tasked with trying to hold the ball and wait for his team-mates to catch up.

The game against City felt a lot like his final months at United as Chelsea failed to break forward with pace and Lukaku’s touch and decision-making was found wanting too.

Had he had the chance to turn Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte – as Chelsea had managed to do to such effect against City in the three previous meetings between the side, perhaps Tuchel’s winning run against Pep Guardiola would have been extended.

Likewise, against Juventus, the lack of quality service to Lukaku was patently clear – even if he was guilty of missing a glorious chance to equalise late on.

Tuchel is yet to get the balance right in attack.

Lukaku has been started in six different combinations up front in only eight games. He has managed only one shot on target in his last three Premier League games – although he did hit the post from close range against Southampton.

For such a clinical finisher, those statistics point to a lack of service, rather than failings on his part.

For Belgium in the Nations League tonight, he will be expected to further extend his record as his country’s all-time leading scorer. He invariably does.

And with four goal in his first four games for Chelsea, he proved precisely what he can do when the ball is put in the box.

Conte, who along with Belgium manager Roberto Martinez, has best exploited Lukaku’s talents, claims Tuchel does not yet know how to use the striker.

And on recent evidence, it is hard to argue with that assertion.

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