West Brom managed to secure one of the deals of the summer when boss Steve Clarke raided his old club Chelsea for the out-of-sorts Romelu Lukaku and his form since arriving at The Hawthorns has been nothing short of superb, but should Roberto Di Matteo have let him go in the first place considering the paucity of options available to him up front?
The club’s summer transfer business pointed to one thing – one last throw of the dice to try and get the best out of Fernando Torres, with the Didier Drogba-shaped hole in the side easier said than done to replace. You see, this side has been running on auto-pilot with the Ivory Coast international in it for the best part of six years. It was far from long ball football, not even direct football, but they had an unquestionable focal point to their attack which the rest of the side knew that they could rely upon, particularly in the big games, and he was certainly one of the biggest of big-game players currently operating in world football.
Spending in the region of £80m on an array of players that could be best marked under the bracket ‘potential’ was always a risky strategy, but when you pay that much for a youngster, chances are they’ve already displayed a level of maturity in their performances which makes them worth all the hassle and most importantly, the money.
Eden Hazard, Oscar and Victor Moses have all been very good when called upon so far this season but as will inevitably happen with young players, particularly given that the English league has a funny way of catching up with you down the home straight on both the mind and body such is its relentlessness that there is a genuine worry that the supply line to Torres could be shut down and in need of repair through sheer fatigue as we crawl past the bust festive period.
Di Matteo may argue that placing his complete and utter faith in, what to this point has been an undisputed £50m flop, was the only natural choice going into this season, but you suspect that he wanted at least one more recognised striker in the squad to supplement Torres this term, with the club’s pursuit of both Andre Schurrle and Hulk proving not only tiresome in the extreme, but they were both ultimately unsuccessful, which is what makes it so strange that they were so content at loaning out Lukaku to West Brom.
After a frustrating year during which he made just 12 goalless appearances largely as a substitute, his first year in England after his big £18m move didn’t go quite according to plan and he certainly needed games. His physique has always meant that when he’s match fit, he’ll prove a real handful and the worries that a young player may not be able to handle the rigours of the Premier League simply don’t apply to him. He’s an absolute beast.
He’s already managed to grab two goals in five appearances for Steve Clarke’s side, firstly as a substitute in the opening game of the season against Liverpool, then the winner in a 1-0 victory over Reading and he looks to be slowly but surely edging ahead of Shane Long in the pecking order. He’s an irrepressible talent and impossible to ignore and he gave Jamie Carragher a few scares during the side’s Capital One Cup third-round defeat this week.
With Nicolas Anelka, Drogba and Salomon Kalou all having left Stamford Bridge this summer, only Victor Moses was brought in and while he may be a pretty consistent winger in the top flight, with his direct running a constant menace out wide, he’s somewhat untested up front, especially as a long front-man.
The only other person capable of filling in for Torres is Daniel Sturridge, who simply hasn’t flourished under Di Matteo at all and he’s struggled for both fitness and form for the best part of six months now. It’s hardly the most reliable back-up around and there are doubts whether they fit the system.
One of Torres’ most underrated qualities is his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play and he’s rarely ever bullied off it, but Sturridge probably would be by most centre-backs and Moses lacks the positional know-how just yet to do himself justice and Chelsea isn’t really a club where you learn on the job as such.
It’s far from panic stations yet, though, with West Brom manager Steve Clarke admitting that Chelsea retain the option to recall him from his loan spell in January: “If he scores 20 goals by Christmas and Chelsea want him back, there’s not a lot I can do,” he told reporters. Nevertheless, Chelsea are just one injury away from something of a striking crisis.
Sure, there are players capable of filling in the gap for a short spell but there’s nobody you’d hang your hat on and to have an £18m wonderkid tearing up trees elsewhere in the league while you’re being forced to scramble about to piece together an attack is far from an ideal situation, especially when the side in question fancies themselves as an outside bet for the title. If Lukaku keeps his form up and Chelsea don’t move for another striker as soon as the January transfer window opens, expect to see this almost unfairly talented teenager back at Stamford Bridge sooner rather than later.
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