Antonio Conte is widely credited with developing Romelu Lukaku from a proven but incomplete goal-scorer into a world class complete striker over the course of their two years together at Inter Milan — including by Lukaku himself — so if there is anyone who knows how to get the best out of our No.9, it’s the former Chelsea head coach.
Alas, from what he’s seeing so far at Chelsea, we’re not there yet.
Speaking as a pundit on Sky Italia since he’s currently between jobs after resigning at Inter in the summer, Conte talked up Lukaku as a multi-threat force of nature.
“He is a very specific striker. Bringing Lukaku into the box, he is dangerous. However, when he starts from midfield, he is incredibly quick. It is very difficult to find a player who is both a target man, but can also run from midfield.
“It’s a tactical situation too, a centre-forward who goes looking for the opposition defender, backs into him and lays it off for whoever is supporting him. That is a tactical approach used in basketball as well.
“The good thing about Romelu is that he can hurt you anywhere. If you keep him far away from the penalty area, he can kill you with his pace. If you have him in the box, he has the physicality to be a target man.”
What Conte seems to suggest is that we’re using Lukaku far too one-dimensionally, far too much as just a traditional target man. That might work against some teams (4 goals in his first 4 games), and might not work against others (0 goals in his last 4 games), but it limits his potential involvement and it limits our potential benefit.
It’s a bit of a vague advice — and I’m sure Conte would be the last person to try to tell Tuchel how to do his job — but it’s perhaps something to keep in mind and something to look for as Tuchel makes his adjustments to the team.
“During the game, there are moments when Lukaku needs to be turned on, but other than that he is one of the toughest forwards to play against, because he can do damage in any area of the pitch. If you have a centre-forward like that, you need to use him and I don’t think Chelsea have quite figured out how to use him yet.
“Last season, they didn’t have a proper centre-forward, so they rotated positions, whereas Romelu is a real reference point in attack. If they can figure out how to use Lukaku, then Chelsea can become the team to beat in the Champions League this season.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Sky Italia via Football-Italia
Maybe we should just try turning him off, and on again?