It was not too long ago that Romelu Lukaku seemed set to return to Chelsea as the prodigal son, taking his place finally as the rightful heir to Chelsea’s striker-throne. He wasn’t going to come cheap, but the Blues had to replace Diego Costa and the former youth prospect and later loan warrior seemed like a natural choice.
But the cycle was not completed. Manchester United saw an opportunity and gazumped Chelsea, ditching Álvaro Morata’s half-completed transfer in the process. Morata ended up at Chelsea not much later, forever linking the two, then 24-year-old strikers in narrative. And while the former Real Madrid and Juventus man started the better of the two, it’s safe to say that Lukaku (27 goals, 9 assists in all competitions) “won” the first round with Morata (15 goals, 6 assists) yet to truly impress on English soil.
On Saturday, as fate would have it, Chelsea and Manchester United will face each other at Wembley in the 2018 FA Cup Final. There are plenty of connections and narratives between the two teams these days, but Lukaku, provided he’s fit, could be one of the biggest difference-makers. Often criticised for not showing up in big games, Lukaku put the Blues to the sword last time we faced him, scoring one and assisting the other in United’s 2-1 victory at Old Trafford.
And that was not the first time Lukaku showed Chelsea what we’ve been missing out on. He eliminated Chelsea a couple years prior from the FA Cup itself while still with Everton, scoring a brace in the Toffees 2-0 win. Chelsea have kept the “world-class striker” quiet in the other 7 meetings, and now Cahill & Co will likely have to make that and 8th time out of the 10 total if Chelsea are to have much chance. We used to call Lukaku the “completely striker” more in jest than anything, but that’s probably very close to a serious assessment these days.
“When he was here, he had talent but he was very young. He’s developed into a world-class striker so credit to him.”
”Sometimes when you’re at a club like Chelsea you feel sorry when you see a player move on. Naturally some progress and some don’t, but you don’t hear about the ones that don’t.”
“We all know it’s hard to have time to come in as a young player - maybe the club and the supporters give you seven, eight, nine games where you’re rusty and not performing. It’s difficult to do that.”
”They’ve then gone on and developed elsewhere and he’s gone on to be a top player. I’ve played and trained against him loads of times and it’ll be difficult [on Saturday].”
There is a chance that Lukaku may not be fit or may be only fit for the bench. United are keeping his fitness a closely guarded secret, though they’ve had their issues with scoring, in general, even with Big Rom playing. Even José Mourinho recognises this issue.
United of course have plenty of other threats as well. Paul Pogba is flourishing in a three-man midfield and Alexis Sánchez, who scored against us in last year’s FA Cup final to give Arsène Wenger the last trophy of his Arsenal career, is finally finding his feet in Manchester as well. Lukaku’s absence would probably make Chelsea’s job easier, but not by much especially considering our current run of form.
“Everyone can see [Lukaku’s] attributes: pace, power, strength and he can finish. His goal-scoring record is very good.”
”But we’re not focusing on one player in their team. We’re respectful of the fact that they have numerous players who can turn a game on its head, as do we.”
-Gary Cahill; source: Evening Standard
As it is often the case with Mourinho’s teams, individual quality, passion, and commitment will make a big difference in determining the winner. Whichever set of players actually show up, will likely be the ones lifting the trophy in the end.