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Chelsea 0, Bournemouth 1. It is the sort of scoreline one might have once associated with a League Cup upset, suffered by a shadow squad of youngsters with Chelsea’s regular XI focused on the bigger picture. However, it was the result on Saturday attained by a gang of millionaire mercenaries, calamitously recording Chelsea’s third home defeat to-nil vs Bournemouth in five seasons.

Disrespectfully or otherwise, any loyal Chelsea fan would assert that this is unacceptable against a club with far less Premier League pedigree, and especially one that has been leaking goals for fun in recent weeks. All of the Bournemouth defeats in question, along with results like the West Ham shock and the  this season, leave Chelsea fans wondering just who could make the difference in the final third on a consistent basis.

Sadly, one such striker was once on Chelsea’s books, only to find himself locked out of any first team opportunities. His name, Romelu Lukaku.

Devils’ Trident Offers Chelsea Hellish Regret

On the international scene, Lukaku is now the front prong of a deadly trident, resplendent in red and representing the nation that reached FIFA’s #1 spot for the first time ever earlier this year. With his hulking frame, venomous shot and dead-eye for goal, Lukaku has everything in a traditional number nine – and more.

Lukaku’s switch from Old Trafford to the San Siro in the summer has once more brought out the best in him, and this is reflected in his new club’s current fortunes, with Inter Milan going into the final fixture of 2019 atop the Serie A table. A frequent pick for anytime scorer by experts who offer advice , Lukaku has continually thrived alongside one of the Italian top-flight’s best players right now, namely Lautaro Martinez, resoundingly proving that he needed more time at Chelsea.

Even now, over eight years after Lukaku’s arrival at Stamford Bridge, people are left wondering just how Chelsea let this gem slip through their fingers. For the start of Lukaku’s ‘whole rotten saga’, we need to turn the clock back to October 2010, when the Blues were still high from an FA Cup and league double, but with a crown under siege by the two Manchester clubs.

2010: Lukaku’s Promise Shines in Pitched Battle for Signature

Almost a decade ago, the 17-year old Lukaku was on fire for RSC Anderlecht, physically tormenting opposition defenders ten years his senior and leaving them for dead week after week. The links had been varied and wide over the summer of 2010, but by the autumn, it was in fact Arsenal who emerged as the likeliest candidates.

A minimum value of around £12m was the stated price for Lukaku’s signature, and it stood to reason, with his strike-rate standing at just under 50% by the Christmas of 2010/11, only six months after he had ended the 2009/10 First Division season as the top scorer – the same season in which he became the then-youngest goalscorer in European competition.

In August 2011, Chelsea won the race for Lukaku, having already been strong contenders alongside the likes of Arsenal. With a mixture of speed and skill that bore traces of Didier Drogba, Chelsea’s pursuit stood to reason. While the 2009/10 season had been a vintage for Drogba, as his goalscoring prowess ultimately helped Chelsea win the Premier League on goal difference, his prime years were numbered.

While there was surely at least a desire to give Lukaku some playing time in 2011/12, or recall him during his loan spells at West Brom and Everton, the climate was not an accommodating one. The tactics of Andre Villas-Boas demanded a striker with experience, and the ability to lead a front three much, ironically, in the way Lukaku currently does for Belgium in front of fellow ‘Chelsea rejects’ Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.

Villas-Boas System Unsuitable for Lukaku

A 4-3-3 is always difficult to lead for a youngster, and with Drogba and Torres getting 24 goals combined as the frontmen, there was ultimately no need to accommodate Lukaku.

There is also the simple fact that even in a team where two outright strikers lead the line, one is going to spend a lot of time on the bench. The only possible exception is when said ‘third wheel’ is well bedded-in, knows the club very well, and is comfortable within a managerially-devised rotation protocol, or at least a system of phased substitutions.

With only the midfield given much fluidity and license to deviate as necessary from position, Lukaku would have also found it difficult to explore his own skillset under Villas-Boas. The pressure on Lukaku to provide matchwinning goals would also have been redoubled by the famously-high defensive line that Villas-Boas held so dear.

Unfortunately for Villas-Boas himself, he was by then working in a very different Premier League climate, compared to what countryman Jose Mourinho faced at the start of 2004/05. What worked with an FC Porto squad , in a league where the club has only one other realistic rival (Benfica) ultimately failed, and cost him his job at Chelsea.

Even if Lukaku has been in the first team frame during the tenures of Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo, the environment, and the lack of mutual understanding between players and management in the dressing room, would have done him a true disservice.

No Going Back After West Brom and Everton Loans

With memories of how Drogba settled so quickly into the Premier League still fresh in the memory, Chelsea fans were naturally excited to receive a new potential hero back in 2011. However, there were always concerns about whether he would take too long to get up to Premier League standard, both physically and in terms of sheer ruthlessness.

For a club of Chelsea’s stature, playing Lukaku in favour of long-term vision over short-term ambition was too risky. Rightly or wrongly for the time, ‘stick’ rather than ‘twist’ was the decision, and the damage to Lukaku’s time at Stamford Bridge , as he spent the entire season playing reserve football.

Though Chelsea won the Champions League, a sixth-place finish in the Premier League was not enough. With new champions Manchester City now the ‘rich kids’, the summer of 2012 should have been the one to see Lukaku finally promoted to the first team, in order to inject an element of surprise – just as he had done in the 2011/12 league finale against Blackburn.

After instead proving himself with West Bromwich Albion on loan in 2012/13, and later Everton before sealing that big move to Manchester United in 2017, Lukaku’s continued omission remains – in hindsight – one of Chelsea’s worst, yet most understandable decisions of modern times.

Alas, some relationships in football are never meant to be. Had Chelsea waited a few years, and stolen him away from his alternate-reality destination – possibly around the time he joined Everton in the true course of events – the Blues could have had the next Didier Drogba ready to go.

Ultimately, the curse of Chelsea fans is to never know ‘what if’. While Lukaku may well have sulked his way into a transfer abroad this year – but with Chelsea instead of Manchester United – every fan who looks back on a limp performance like last weekend’s, and bemoans a lack of attacking prowess, cannot help but think of what better man-management of Lukaku in the early 2010s could have achieved.

 

 

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A View From The Bridge

Chelsea plan to bring back former youth star to replace midfield general

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Declan Rice

Chelsea target Declan Rice to replace N’Golo Kante if he leaves

According to the Daily Mirror, Chelsea have identified former youth player Declan Rice as the perfect successor to N’Golo Kante in case the Frenchman leaves the club.

Kante has struggled to make an impact due to injuries this season. The 29-year-old has made just 22 appearances while scoring three goals. His future too is now in doubt following interest from Spanish giants Real Madrid.

According to the report, Kante is not keen on a move away. This has not stopped the Spaniards from making him their number one target over Paul Pogba.

N'Golo Kante
N’Golo Kante is a transfer priority for Real Madrid

The Blues, however, are looking to stay on top of things by earmarking a successor to the Frenchman if the worst comes to pass. Capable of playing in both defensive midfield and centre-back, Rice will offer Lampard a number of options.

West Ham are adamant to hold on to their prized possession and value the player at £70million minimum. Premier League rivals Manchester United are also interested.

A return to Stamford Bridge will see the youngster reunite with best friend Mason Mount at the place where it all began for the duo. Having joined the club as a 7-year-old, Rice was eventually released in 2014.

Declan Rice started his youth career at Chelsea
Declan Rice is close friends with Mason Mount

He then moved to West Ham, where he made the most of the opportunity given to him by Slaven Bilic.

His performances saw him win West Ham Players’ Player of the Year award while also being declared as Young Hammer of the Year for the third consecutive season. (h/t Mirror)

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Rice is one of the best young English midfielders in the league today. A return to Stamford Bridge after having proven his ability elsewhere will see the budding star redeem himself for being let go.

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Former Blues favourite feels Dutch star will fit in well at Chelsea – likens him to Lampard

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Jesper Gronkjaer believes Donny van de Beek will be a proper fit at Chelsea

According to Goal.com (h/t Mirror), former Chelsea favourite Jesper Gronkjaer believes Ajax star, Donny van de Beek will thrive at Chelsea.

He lavished praise on the Dutchman, likening him to club legend and current boss Frank Lampard. He has been described as a box to box player capable of taking a long shot.

“He is more like Frank Lampard, that kind of player. He is a big guy, box-to-box, and takes good long shots.”

Goals from midfield were something Lampard specialized in, and Gronkjaer’s words are no small praise for the Dutch sensation. If he is anything close to our former number eight, we will have a real player on our hands.

The Dutchman’s performances have garnered interest from European giants Juventus and Real Madrid, two sides who Van de Beek starred against last season.

Van de Beek had scored 10 goals and 11 assists this season prior to football being suspended. The season in the Netherlands has now been declared null and void, making his efforts pointless.

Donny van de Beek
Donny van de Beek has garnered interest from Juventus and Juventus

Having come through the youth ranks at Ajax, the midfielder has gone on to make 175 appearances for Ajax while scoring 41 goals and 34 assists. 

Just 22, he can only get better and can turn into a key player in the coming years. Whether we sign him or not remains to be seen. He has gone on to win nine caps for his country.

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Chelsea is undergoing a youth revolution under Lampard. The addition of Van de Beek will not just give us a young promising midfielder, but also one who has shown he can compete at the highest level.

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Chelsea keen to beat off arch-rivals to 53-goal Ligue 1 star

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Chelsea keen to beat Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur to Memphis Depay

According to Spanish website Todofichajes (h/t Express), Chelsea are set to face off against Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal for Lyon star Memphis Depay.

With the French giants missing out on European qualification for next season, the future of the former Manchester United star has been called into question.

The 26-year-old arrived at United with much fanfare in 2015. It proved to be a disaster, with him scoring just 7 goals and 6 assists in 53 appearances for the club. He was eventually moved on in the summer of 2017 to Lyon.

Memphis Depay has attracted interest from Chelsea
Memphis Depay has attracted interest from Chelsea

To his credit, the Dutchman has rebuilt his reputation in France. A regular for Lyon, he has scored 53 goals and 43 assists in 134 games.

At 26, he has a number of years left in him and should be a risk worth taking. Lyon owner Jean-Michel Aulas has already conceded that Depay could leave owing to the lack of European football next term

With his contract set to expire in 2021, Lyon could end up losing him on a free next summer. With clubs set to face a financial hit due to the coronavirus crisis, the French side will do well to earn top dollar for the Dutchman this summer.

Mohamed Salah returned to the Premier League a different beast
Mohamed Salah returned to the Premier League a different beast

The lack of European football means Lyon’s finances are set to suffer even further, giving us some leeway in trying to force a deal. With Arsenal and Tottenham looking likely to miss out on the Champions League, our hand could be further strengthened.

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In spite of having failed at United, Depay still remains a potent player. Mohamed Salah has shown that all players need sometimes is a second chance in the right system.

A versatile attacker who can play anywhere along the frontline, Depay could very well get the opportunity to do the same.

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Transfer blow for Chelsea as rivals move ahead in race for £60m-rated Ligue 1 ace

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Moussa Dembele doesn't have a lot of Premier League experience

Chelsea fall behind in the race for Moussa Dembele

According to the Daily Star, Chelsea have fallen behind Manchester United in the race to sign Lyon striker Moussa Dembele.

The Red Devils are increasingly confident of getting their man, having scouted him extensively over the past few months. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has sent scouts to watch Dembele at least three times in the last six months and is keen to convince him to make a switch to Old Trafford.

Dembele has enjoyed an excellent season at the Groupama Stadium and has scored 22 goals and assisted 7 in 42 appearances.

Moussa Dembele is a target for Chelsea
Moussa Dembele prefers Manchester United over Chelsea Image Credits: Getty Images)

Tammy Abraham has established himself as the first-choice striker under Frank Lampard. With Michy Batshuayi woefully out of form and Oliver Giroud out of contract this summer, bringing in a striker is key.

The major drawback in our pursuit is likely to come from the player himself. According to the report, Dembele is keen on making the switch to Manchester over a return to London.

The 23-year-old has experience of playing in England, having made more than 150 appearances for Fulham and Celtic. A clinical finisher, his best is yet to come.

Tammy Abraham
Chelsea have been heavily reliant on Tammy Abraham for goals this season

Lyon are resigned to losing a number of their stars owing to their failure of qualifying for Europe next season. Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has already accepted that he may have no other choice but to sell. (h/t Daily Star)

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It is unfortunate that we have apparently missed out on a promising striker. He would have added competition and numbers to our attack going into the new season.

We will hopefully keep United at bay in the race for fourth place. A return to the Champions League will strengthen us in our ability to attract players in the summer.

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