Big games require big characters with huge reputations. The biggest teams sign the best players to perform on the biggest stage and Romelu Lukaku is no different. When Antonio Conte and Inter coughed out £73m for Lukaku’s services, it was in a quest to secure a player that will offer an extra edge to the team. It was a move which saw the bookmakers install Inter as second-favourites for Serie A this season, but following their electric start many bookmakers decided to make Inter their favourites for the Serie A title this season, some odds as short as 3/1. With perennial Serie A winners Juventus also having a new coach in Maurizio Sarri, the signing of Lukaku is the key in the eye of the online bookmaker community to Juve’s odds going out to 5/1 to retain their title again this season.
The Belgian has made a decent start to his Serie A career with three goals in seven games but he will need to do more that just score goals but score important goals that count. Prior to the start of last week, Inter and Juventus were the only unbeaten sides in Europe and the Nerazzurri needed a big inspiration ahead of what was going to be two crucial fixtures against Barcelona and Juventus.
Sadly, Lukaku missed the Barcelona clash due to injury and Inter went on to lose the game in what was a harsh result on their performance that night. It was easy to say that Conte missed the big Belgian and had he been on the pitch, perhaps the story might have been different.
However, the 26-year-old got a chance to show what he was really made of against Juventus in the Derby d’Italia. He was passed fit for the game and many expected it was going to be a battle of forwards considering the calibre of strikers that were in contention for both sides.
If there was ever a time anyone would claim Inter could upset Juventus, their last meeting was definitely the time. With the Nerazzurri’s rich form (bar the Barcelona loss) going into the game, the stage was primed for Inter to make a statement – with Romelu Lukaku as the focal point and target man for goals.
It didn’t go as planned as the Belgian struggled to make a real impression on the game. He had a game to forget and as per Whoscored, Lukaku misplaced as many as 10 pass attempts made in the game.
In the wake of the defeat, Conte did say that he was pleased with the striker’s progress but also admitted that Lukaku needs to do more and train more, especially because of his size.
Asked about Lukaku after Sunday’s 2-1 defeat by Serie A rivals Juventus, Conte said as quoted by the Daily Mail: ‘Romelu is definitely a player that must train more, because being a player with a massive body he needs to train, to play, to be in great shape.
‘In this beginning of the season he had this back issue, now he’s been dealing with this other quadricep issue since the game against Lazio.
‘But I think he gave everything, it’s inevitable that against Barcelona we didn’t have Lukaku and it was important to have him. And we didn’t have him.
‘However, Romelu as well was very committed today, he tried to do his best, and now let’s hope he can leave these little issues behind him and be at his 100 per cent.’
Everyone expects Lukaku to go out and be both devastating and dominant in these games and make the team play well. He did not do very badly but had poor control on several occasions. He is in the team for a reason and that is certainly not to play like Paulo Dybala.
Lukaku has been decent so far but he was bought to be the difference in games like these and those fixtures ultimately define the club’s fate at large. Take a look at Gonzalo Higuain for instance. Prior to the game against Inter, the striker was on a goal drought and only managed his second goal of the season in Juventus earlier mid-week victory against Bayer Leverkusen (Whoscored). The Argentine was dropped to the bench for the big game but came on and was the difference as he scored the winner in the game.
I did say in one of my recent articles that Higuain needed to do better but will be forgiven if he gets a goal against Inter and he did just that and got all the plaudits. You get the feeling that one goal from a striker against his side’s fierce rivals is way more expensive than scoring against a mid-table side everyone expected the club to win in the first place. It is in this regard that Lukaku needs to do better. Goals are always welcome against any opponent but stealing points off your closest rivals edges you closer to the Scudetto and the 26-year-old must be more effective in big games and matches with dire consequences.
Conte’s side now sit second in the Serie A table and will look to return to winning ways when they face 15th-placed Sassuolo after the international break. Following their defeat, they have moved out to clear second-favourites with the leading bookmakers. Lukaku will also get another chance for big game impact when Inter take on Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on the 23rd of October – Inter are narrow favourites to pick up their first victory of this season’s competition at 1.78 with most bookmakers but it is lifting the Serie A title thanks to the goals of Lukaku that will see the punters clean out the bookmakers this time around.