As Romelu Lukaku watched his parent club Chelsea fail to breach a hard-working, organised performance by his new Everton teammates at Goodison Park, he would have undoubtedly appreciated the irony of such a limp attacking performance.
Two weeks ago, Chelsea made the decision to loan the powerful Belgian striker to the Toffees; the result of a saturation of names in the forwards pigeon hole at Stamford Bridge. Fernando Torres, Demba Ba, new signing Samuel Eto’o and wildcard Andre Schurrle, known mostly for his wide play, gave Jose Mourinho what he believed was more than enough options.
But on Merseyside, that selection of goal-getters was not enough as Chelsea fell to their first defeat of the Premier League season. Steven Naismith nodded in the only goal of the game – the result of poor positioning from a defence which is already showing signs of fundamental limitations in September – but pushing that to one side for a moment, Chelsea’s attacking medley may not be as delightful as touted by Mourinho.
Cameroonian veteran Eto’o started his first match since moving to west London from Anzhi Makhachkala in the transfer window. Arguably the world’s best front man at his peak, the ex-Barcelona and Inter forward was a key part of Mourinho’s team at Inter, not only scoring goals but grabbing plenty of assists.
It might have just been the build-up of rust after a lack of top level football, but on Saturday, it appeared that time was catching up with the four-time African Player of the Year. His blistering pace a thing of the past, Eto’o now needs to rely on his intelligence and natural instinct in the final third. But his finishing left plenty to be desired – particularly when he fluffed a left-footed effort miles wide from eight yards out after Tim Howard had spilled a shot.
He wasn’t the only ineffectual striker, though. Schurrle, playing on the right of the attacking midfield trio, spurned several chances to break the deadlock. Torres, introduced as a substitute as Chelsea chased the game, barely touched the ball and certainly lacked the presence to trouble a comfortable Everton defence which is increasingly looking as solid as the Stoke City defence of two seasons ago.
Throughout this, Chelsea had a striker who scored 17 goals last season on their books. Lukaku may have been unable to play for Everton at the weekend due to his Blues affiliation but Roberto Martinez’s swoop for the 20-year-old may have had as much of a bearing on the result as Naismith’s header.
While Nikica Jelavic and Arouna Kone are accomplished frontmen, Everton weren’t blessed with a physically dominant presence before they signed Lukaku. They coped without him yesterday but will be able to call on him for the rest of the season and he’ll likely play a vital role.
Time will tell if Chelsea’s lack of an attacking figurehead costs them this season. If so, they could live to rue the decision to loan out Lukaku.
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