What will Lukaku add to Chelsea, other than goals?
Romelu Lukaku's style of play allows Chelsea to be more flexible with their shape and gives them the option to play more directly if needed. Lukaku is a complete forward, someone that can play as a target-man and get in-behind defences using his pace and power to beat defenders. But Lukaku drops deep well too, he likes to offer himself as an option, and once he receives the ball, he can turn and either play in his striker partner or drive with the ball at his feet. Over the seasons, his decision-making on the ball has improved alongside his composure, making his link-up play a very effective strength.
Lukaku ended the Serie A season with 24 goals, 9 assists, resulting in a goal contribution of 33, which was the best in Serie A. Interestingly, Lukaku over-performed with both xG (23.06) and xA (6.03).
Lukaku also adds a physical presence inside the box for Chelsea, which was evidently missing with Werner or Havertz playing as the sole striker. Lukaku touched the ball in the opponent's box 5.96 times per 90 (4th most in Serie A), and though Werner had a similar amount of touches, Lukaku was undoubtedly more decisive inside the box.
But, we saw the best from Lukaku last season, which asks the question, will Tuchel change his formation to get the best out of Lukaku?
Though he certainly can play as the lone striker, with Mount, Havertz and/or Werner making runs from behind, Lukaku looked unstoppable at times with a striker partner. Tuchel has used a 3-4-2-1 in the majority of his Chelsea time so far, and in the opening game of the 2021-22 season, against Crystal Palace, but the signing of Lukaku may see Tuchel use a slightly different formation at times, possibly a 3-5-2 as that could be the easiest to transition into.
Also note, Timo Werner arguably played his best football with a striker partner at RB Leipzig too, so this is undoubtedly an option. Chelsea can opt for a Werner/Lukaku partnership which could work similarly to Werner/Poulsen at Leipzig or Lukaku/Martinez at Inter. In this case, the big guy (Lukaku) would be used as a target-man dropping deep and occupying defenders to create space for his strike partner to make runs in behind. Lukaku, as already mentioned, can collect the ball also drive at defences. This can put Chelsea attackers in a 2v2 situation if they can quickly hit teams on the break.
Or, they can play Havertz up top, alongside Lukaku and have Romelu the one making runs in behind defences with Havertz dropping deep to link-up play. Either way, Lukaku would be a great partner for either Havertz or Werner.
Lukaku completed 4.89 dribbles per 90 (53.6% success) and contested in the 4th most offensive duels (compared with other Serie A strikers) 18.93 per 90, 32.7% success. Lukaku loves to be involved.
As expected of a Thomas Tuchel team, Chelsea play out from the back. They remain patient in possession, defenders tend to circulate the ball before playing wide to a wing-back and against Palace, they kept 61% of the possession. They can now opt for a more direct/counter-attacking approach when looking for the best routes forward by quickly getting the ball to Lukaku. This doesn't mean high balls, but they can increase the length of their passes to get the ball to Lukaku quicker, where he can hold the ball and link-up play. With Lukaku, they can also use the 'up, back, and through' approach to open up defences. When a central defender has the ball, Lukaku can drop deep to receive, play it back to a midfielder or wing-back, who then sets off the 3rd man (ideally a strike partner). The same patient approach may be a potential reason for their lack of goals.
Chelsea, against Crystal Palace, used the half-channels to get the ball into the box quickly. They too used the wider channels, but crossing from the half-spaces seemed to have caused Crystal Palace more trouble, and it was challenging to deal with. The slight problem with this against Palace was the target inside the box. Chelsea never had a player inside the box that would cause a threat but with Lukaku, this would be a different story. These crosses did very well to unsettle the opponent's defence. They gave them less time to organize in their defensive transition, and a player with Lukaku's presence inside the box can take advantage of these situations. Though must be noted that Lukaku only managed to score 2 headed goals last season in Serie A.
When the Blues lose the ball, especially high up the pitch, they press to win it back right away in a diamond shape, with one of the two central midfielders potentially taking up a more elevated position at the base of that diamond. But, playing with two up top may alter that shape slightly. We saw some glimpses of this against Palace. When Crystal Palace attempted to play out, Jorginho and Kovacic kept their position in midfield. Werner lead the press with Mount and Pulisic picking up passing options and Chelsea's wing-backs getting tight to the opponent's full-backs. Mount at times had the job to press the midfielder who came to collect the ball for Palace.
Lukaku's acceleration, agility, and determination to help the side during their defensive transitions may only help with their press and put more fear or uncertainty when opponents attempt to play out.
But, unfortunately, that wraps up this mini Lukaku-Tuchel tactical analysis. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it! Now for my predicted Thomas Tuchel 2021-22 Football Manager tactic.