Romelu Lukaku’s move to Inter was met with a mixed response from Manchester United and Nerazzurri fans alike. United were letting go of a striker who had become a scapegoat. But Inter were getting a man who was expected to fit right into Antonio Conte’s system.
After much negotiation, the two clubs finally agreed a deal in early August. United failed to replace Lukaku but Inter saw the former Everton man score on his first-team debut against Lecce.
Many expected Lukaku to do bigger things at Inter, while others felt that he would be exposed even more. But his start has gleamed of promise and encouragement. Antonio Conte’s comments suggest he isn’t entirely happy but Lukaku has already scored thrice for the Nerazzurri.
In Conte’s trademark 3-5-2 shape, Lukaku has majorly played alongside Lautaro Martinez. But Matteo Politano has also played alongside/behind him sometimes. Lukaku has been used as the last man up front and he often sticks to the last man of the opposition defence.
He has scored thrice this season. His goal against Lecce was a typical centre-forward’s goal, as he tapped it in from close range. The goal against Cagliari was a penalty that Sensi won when Lukaku had played him in. His third against Milan was a classic looping header off a Nicolo Barella cross from the left.
The Belgian has won the highest number of aerial duels per game in the Inter side, winning 4.4 per game. He also ranks the third-highest in the league for the same stat, behind Diego Godin and Bruno Alves (via Whoscored)
His pace and power has been crucial to Conte’s system. When on the ball, he has been taking on defenders. The combination of that pace and power has been a huge problem when he dribbles as the opposition. It is a trait that is very unique in him- something not may Serie A strikers do today.
He has completed 0.9 dribbles per game and more than that, he is getting the service from a well-oiled midfield. They are working in perfect cohesion. That helps Lukaku. That was hardly the case at United.
He has thrived when he has played close to the opposition backline. For example, his role was slightly different against Juventus. Inter were often playing deeper as Juve kept hold of possession. Lukaku had to play deeper, as a result.
He had a poor game against the Turin side, unsurprisingly. The 26-year-old did win four aerial duels and completed two dribbles, but his hold-up was poor. He gave the ball away once and had a passing percentage of 62 percent (via Whoscored)
He has often been given the task to hold the ball up so that Stefano Sensi enters the attack quicker. It was the case against Juve. After Sensi went off injured and Matias Vecino came on, Juve grew into the game. Inter lost their midfield charm and Lukaku suffered too, because of that.
In games like the Milan one, Lukaku enjoyed himself. Milan tried to keep possession under Marco Giampaolo. But they struggled. Lukaku played closer to Alessio Romagnoli and Matteo Mussachio.
The Belgian scored in this game and it came right when Inter had switched to a 3-4-3 system. He won as many as seven aerial duels and playing closer to goal meant he took three shots on target (via Whoscored)
The performances against Lecce and Cagliari were the same. He was closer to goal and closer to opposition defenders. He scored in both the games and was one of the best players on the pitch.
At Inter, one thing works remarkably in Lukaku’s favour. Conte’s system is working already. Lukaku had scored 17 times in Jose Mourinho’s second season at United (via Transfermarkt). One big reason for that was the presence of a settled system. He was the focal point of that system- like he is under Conte.
The performances of Sensi, Barella and Marcelo Brozovic would give any striker a lift in confidence. Their engine-like working has been key to the system and Lukaku has benefitted massively.