ROMELU LUKAKU (£5.1m) set an unwanted Premier League record at the weekend.
Despite starting the game and completing the full 90 minutes plus stoppage time, the Belgian registered just seven touches – the lowest figure since records began.
Admittedly, the stats boffins only started recording touches in 2003/04 but it’s remarkable that the most anonymous performance in the last 19 seasons (of any player to play 90+ minutes) came from a prominent striker representing one of the very best teams in the league, the reigning European champions no less.
Even more damning is the fact one of Lukaku’s touches was the very first pass of the game from kick-off.
There can be no doubt the 28-year-old must shoulder a significant portion of the blame for his ghostly showing at Selhurst Park but questions must also be asked of Chelsea’s attacking tactics.
A seven-touch no-show may be unique but the Blues have generally had problems integrating their centre-forward into their system.
Both Kai Havertz (£3.5m) and Timo Werner (£3.4m) have also found it difficult to impact games when the leading the line in recent times, although the former did have some sustained joy at the back end of last season.
Since Thomas Tuchel’s appointment, the wing-backs have been hugely important figures in unlocking opposition defenses.
Reece James (£5.9m) and Ben Chilwell (£5.0m) in particular have provided more than their fair share of goals and assists under the German’s watch.
However, if there is one criticism of Tuchel’s reign at Stamford Bridge, which would be harsh given the victory in Porto last May, it’s that there has not been a clear cohesion between the attacking players when the first-choice wing-backs have been sidelined .
There’s no shortage of talent in Chelsea’s ranks but the rotating cast of wingers, midfielders and forwards has perhaps disrupted their rhythm at times, which is the primary reason they have fallen behind Manchester City and Liverpool in the title race.
Circling back to Lukaku, it will be interesting to see whether an unwanted record will prompt a change in how he is deployed.
Tuchel seems to believe the hulking striker is best used as a target man, a focal point to play with his back to goal.
Lukaku can perform this role but that’s not what brought him such success at Inter, where he scored 30+ goals in each of his two seasons with the Milan-based club.
In Italy, he was one half of a dynamic front pairing alongside Lautaro Martinez and was encouraged to dribble at defenders and bear down on goal, rather than stand with his back to it while pinned to a centre-back.
This is evident in Belgium colors too, though not to quite the same extent.
The problem for Tuchel, and it’s a nice one to have, is that he has so many options for the front three that he doesn’t necessarily need to waver from his preferred tactics to accommodate one player, even if that one player is a £ 97.5million centre-forward with 100+ Premier League goals and 68 international goals to his name at the age of 28.
From a Dream Team perspective, Lukaku’s backers will surely need to see something special from him against Lille this evening if they are to retain him much longer.
With an ownership of 21.4%, he’s the fifth-most popular forward in the game but it’s hard to see him remaining above the likes of Sadio Mane (£4.4m) and Son Heung-min (£5.3m) for much longer on current form.
Lukaku’s only points since the start of Game Week 18 have come against Chesterfield and Plymouth.
Simply put, there are better options.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism