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Chelsea FC: Chelsea's Failure to Utilise Romelu Lukaku 2021/22 - team analysis tactics

Chelsea 2021/22: The Blues’ failure to utilise Romelu Lukaku – tactical analysis

The signing of a £97.5 million striker was supposed to turn Chelsea into a potential Premier League winning side. A centre forward with 80 goal contributions in the last two seasons was the final missing piece of the puzzle. However, the return to his former club did not work out exactly how Romelu Lukaku expected it to. This scout report will feature a tactical analysis of the qualities Lukaku has, and how Thomas Tuchel has failed to utilise his star signing. It will also be an analysis looking at how he can tweak their tactics to make the most out of Lukaku.

Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku has many qualities that would help improve almost any team in the world. His physical strength combined with his running pace and power means he is a devastating player in transition. When a ball is played in behind, Lukaku has the pace to get ahead of the defenders, and once he even gets shoulder to shoulder with opposition defenders, he will shrug them off due to his large frame and powerful presence.

Chelsea FC: Chelsea's Failure to Utilise Romelu Lukaku 2021/22 - team analysis tactics
Romelu Lukaku using his pace and power to break through on goal

Another quality Lukaku has is his ability to hold up the ball. Having such a large presence, along with his strength enables him to keep distance between the ball and defenders, so that he has time on the ball even if his control isn’t on the same level of some other world-class players. Lukaku can also use this ability to turn passes into his feet, into through balls, by shifting a defender out of the way and running with the ball into the space he has just created for himself.

Belgium’s all-time top scorer clearly is a great finisher too when in the box. He has the ability to place shots whilst also being able to strike the ball with power regularly. His weak foot is also very strong and he has the ability to score headers with power. Lukaku can even combine well in tight spaces with first time passes and flicks to players supporting him.

Romelu Lukaku is a complete forward, being one of the best players in his position in the world, but has been badly misused which has led to criticism from many pundits. However, this report will show how to make the most of his world-class strengths, and why Lukaku can be in the race for top scorer in the Premier League next season.

Chelsea’s reluctance to use Lukaku

Although Lukaku has many qualities, this season has not been successful for him. He has not received the same kind of service that made him so successful at Internazionale or Belgium. This change in tactics has stopped him from looking like the elite player that he is. Many factors can attribute to this downfall in performance and goalscoring numbers that Lukaku has fallen a victim of.

Firstly, Chelsea are a possession-based team. This means that the number of transitional attacks that they have is much lower than he had at previous clubs. A key strength of Lukaku almost becomes redundant when playing against some more defensive-minded teams, however, he has more tools in his arsenal that are still useful.

Lack of passing quality

In the game against Crystal Palace, Lukaku was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, only having 7 touches of the ball in the entire game. There is something clearly going wrong when a team like Chelsea maintained 57% possession and attempted over 500 passes but only found the striker’s feet on 7 occasions. During the game, Crystal Palace had a low block when defending, giving Chelsea’s defenders, especially Rudiger, lots of time on the ball. However, these deeper players were often unable to pick out the runs Lukaku was making. As seen in the image below, the pass over the top of Crystal Palace’s defence was on a lot of the time. Lukaku was regularly making runs and he spent most of the game with his arm in the air, asking for the ball.

Chelsea FC: Chelsea's Failure to Utilise Romelu Lukaku 2021/22 - team analysis tactics
Rudiger opts for the safer pass rather than allowing Lukaku to be 1v1 on goal

No one was brave enough to attempt the ball over the top, and when the attempt was made, it was often under/overhit. This certainly comes down to a lack of quality in passing in the Chelsea squad. In that game, Chelsea played a 4-3-3 with 4 centre backs starting the match. Christian Pulisic started in central midfield and this was a team with all the wrong profiles in key positions. It was no surprise that the performance was poor and the only goal of the match came after three substitutions were made.

Poor decision making

Another problem the Chelsea squad has is the lack of trust in Lukaku to either hold the ball up or beat his man. There have been plenty of occasions where Lukaku has been open but someone has held on to the ball for too long.

Chelsea FC: Chelsea's Failure to Utilise Romelu Lukaku 2021/22 - team analysis tactics
Havertz tries to score by himself even though Lukaku is open

Either a pass to feet, or a through ball would easily find Lukaku, with no opposition defenders in the way. Even though this was possible, Chelsea players often looked up at him, then turned with the ball and opted for a backwards or sideways pass.

Chelsea FC: Chelsea's Failure to Utilise Romelu Lukaku 2021/22 - team analysis tactics
The pass to Lukaku is on but Rudiger plays the safe pass to a teammate out wide

Due to Lukaku’s strength, elite hold up ability and running power, he excels in 50/50 battles with defenders and in offensive duels. An offensive duel is when a player in possession of the ball attempts to pass an opponent who is trying to dispossess him.

At Internazionale, he won 32.3% of such duels, out of 744 attempts in games where he played at least 60+ minutes. This number slightly decreased down to 30.9% out of 304 attempts in his season at Chelsea. This shows that Lukaku’s personal game has not massively declined, the decrease can be attributed to a slightly harder level of opposition defenders. The big difference is that the number of duels has massively gone down. This is clearly down to a different play style, where Lukaku doesn’t have as many opportunities to do what he is elite at. When Lukaku is given the ball, he is as good with it as he was at his old club.

How Lukaku has seen success at Chelsea

Using Lukaku’s hold up brilliance

Although it hasn’t been often, there have been times where Lukaku has shone in a Chelsea shirt. On his debut, against a weakened Arsenal side, Lukaku proved his worth already.

He constantly showed for the ball, keeping his defenders at arm’s length to give himself time on the ball. In his first game, the passes came to him more often than in any other game. This was evident in him having 9 dribbles, more than any other game all season. He was trusted more often because of the reputation he made for himself at Inter. He would receive the ball deeper, roll his defender and attack the space he created for himself.

Chelsea FC: Chelsea's Failure to Utilise Romelu Lukaku 2021/22 - team analysis tactics
Lukaku holds up the ball, turns and runs at the Arsenal defence

What Chelsea also accomplished was numerical overloads on the flanks. As shown below. Lukaku would occupy a central defender, which left Mason Mount and Reece James in a 2v1 against Kieran Tierney. Chelsea looked to find the spare man and their first goal of the game came from that. A simple bounce pass from Lukaku, with 2 runners in behind against one defender, and the cross coming back in for Lukaku to have an easy finish. This theme was very common in Lukaku’s first few games but as time went on, Chelsea played around him, rather than through him.

Chelsea FC: Chelsea's Failure to Utilise Romelu Lukaku 2021/22 - team analysis tactics
Lukaku pass ball to Kovacic, then runs into the box to score the opener

Here, against one of the best teams in Europe, Liverpool, Chelsea still trusted Lukaku and played attacks through him. This shows that he has got the quality as long as he gets the ball played into him.

Chelsea FC: Chelsea's Failure to Utilise Romelu Lukaku 2021/22 - team analysis tactics
Lukaku rolls Matip and begins a 3v3 attack

Devastating in transition

Arguably Lukaku’s biggest strength is his threat in transition. His pace and power, alongside world-class finishing, means that when Chelsea do have counterattacks, there is no one better to be on the end of them than Romelu Lukaku. Here, against Wolves, Chelsea win the ball back and find Lukaku instantly. He displays his finishing quality and even during a ‘poorer season’, when he’s been in front of goal, the quality always remained.

Chelsea FC: Chelsea's Failure to Utilise Romelu Lukaku 2021/22 - team analysis tactics
Chelsea win the ball in Wolves’ half and play direct to Lukaku who scores

Against Aston Villa, it’s also clear to see that when the ball is played instantly, Lukaku will punish a team in a transitional attack. If Chelsea had more faith in Lukaku’s abilities, this would be seen more often. However, they often try to keep the ball for too long for a team that lacks creative profiles in key positions around the pitch.

Chelsea FC: Chelsea's Failure to Utilise Romelu Lukaku 2021/22 - team analysis tactics
Lukaku is played through on goal by Kovacic and scores

Summary

The signing of Lukaku hasn’t been successful in his first season back in the Premier League. There have been many factors affecting Chelsea this season. A squad hurt by injuries to key players such as Reece James and Ben Chilwell. Covid. Lukaku himself was out injured for 3 months. The infamous interview. An impending takeover. Competing for six different trophies.

This hasn’t been a smooth season for the club but next season should be different with a squad which will include more players Thomas Tuchel wants. Players will be brought in who are comfortable on the ball. Lukaku should regularly get better service. His quality on the ball has not been as bad as it has been made out to be. As long as Lukaku continues to get the same service as he has done in games against Arsenal Liverpool and Wolves, he will reach the goalscoring levels he had at Inter and will be in the race for the golden boot.