New Chelsea owners face key early question: How do you solve a problem like Romelu Lukaku?

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·3-min read
New Chelsea owners face key early question: How do you solve a problem like Romelu Lukaku?
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The first major decision to be taken by Chelsea’s new owners this summer is likely to be: What to do about Romelu Lukaku?

The £97.5million striker has endured a miserable return to Stamford Bridge since his club record move from Inter Milan last summer.

The man who was supposed to be the final piece of the jigsaw in Chelsea’s search for a first Premier League title in five years, has been pushed so far to the fringes that it is more of a talking point if he actually starts a game, than if he does not.

Ahead of tonight’s clash with Arsenal, Thomas Tuchel claimed fitness was an issue – suggesting 60-minute bursts may be the best way to get a tune out of the Belgium international - and he could get a rare chance this evening.

Fitness is one factor – but so is form. And suitability.

Lukaku simply does not fit into Tuchel’s preferred system and it is difficult to see how he ever will.

Kai Havertz may never be a prolific goal-scorer at the highest level, but his touch, vision, elusiveness and work-rate make him a much better fit at the point of Chelsea’s attack.

If Tuchel is to mount a serious title challenge next season, it may require the addition of a natural goal-scorer, who shares those qualities, or for Havertz to markedly improve his own numbers.

Either way, Lukaku remains the odd man out.

So how will Todd Boehly, Sir Martin Broughton or Steve Pagliuca approach the situation?

There has been unanimous sentiment among all the bidders for Chelsea that keeping Tuchel is vital.

Yet in the post-Roman Abramovich era, the idea of a near-£100million benchwarmer seems unthinkable. That is the type of luxury reserved for bygone times at the Bridge.

 (BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)
(BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

American owners tend to watch the bottom line. They want a return for their money and Lukaku’s situation is not a good look.

So, it is either a case of Tuchel fitting his team around the 28-year-old, who has not started a league match since February 19, or Chelsea cutting their losses.

The big question is just how much of a loss they would be prepared to take. Chelsea could not hope to recoup anything like the money they paid for Lukaku just eight months ago.

There is already an acceptance within the club that the market for offloading unwanted players is shrinking due to the enormous wages they pay. It is why they have looked to use the loan market so frequently.

Could they command as much as £50million for Lukaku, given his salary is believed to be in the region of £300,000-a-week? That rules out just about any club in Italy.

Of the Spanish clubs that could compete for his signature – namely Real Madrid and Barcelona – their focus is squarely on Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland this summer.

Perhaps Paris Saint-Germain could look to fill the soon-to-be Mbappe-shaped hole in their attack – or Newcastle might want to make him a statement signing in their first summer window under Saudi Arabian ownership.

The options are extremely limited both in terms of fee and wages.

Trying to find a way to make Lukaku work at Chelsea would undoubtedly be the preferred route for the new owner and sources close to the player insist he is determined to make a success of his return to west London.

If only Tuchel could distil the magic produced by the hitman against tonight’s opponents, back in August.

He was unplayable that day – bullying and frightening the life out of Pablo Mari as he opened the scoring in a 2-0 win at the Emirates.

Back then he looked every bit a game-changing signing, one that could turn Chelsea from challengers to champions.

Now it is hard to see how they can possibly move forward with him in the team.

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