Chelsea v Everton: Romelu Lukaku historically productive for his age, and should only get better

The Everton striker’s headed effort in a 2-0 defeat of West Ham United last weekend was his 100th career league goal in his 230th appearance.

Everton's Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring against West Ham. Carl Recine / Reuters
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• Chelsea v Everton, Saturday Nov 5, 9.30pm, BeIN Sports

It can be easy to forget just how young Romelu Lukaku still is.

The Everton striker’s headed effort in a 2-0 defeat of West Ham United last weekend was his 100th career league goal in his 230th appearance.

When cup competitions are added in, his tally stands at 126 strikes in 288 outings, with a further 17 netted in his 52 caps for Belgium. It is a mightily impressive record for a player who will turn 24 in the final week of the current campaign next May.

It is interesting to note that Lukaku has reached his century of league goals quicker than such celebrated scorers as Michael Owen, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Fernando Torres, Andriy Shevchenko and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Only Owen, Rooney, Robbie Fowler and Cristiano Ronaldo were quicker to 50 Premier League strikes than the former Anderlecht man — and three of those players had the added advantage of starting their careers in England.

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The fact that Lukaku has been part of the English top flight for over five years — Chelsea, who are set to lock horns with Everton this weekend, brought him to Stamford Bridge for an initial fee of £10 million (Dh45.8m) in August 2011 — makes it seem like he is older than 23, but the burly Belgian is in fact junior to players such as Paul Pogba, Alberto Moreno, Manuel Lanzini, Modou Barrow and Wilfried Zaha.

It is a little harsh, then, that Lukaku tends to be judged as if he were a finished product rather than someone who is still honing his skills and has his peak years ahead of him.

There are certainly areas of his game which Lukaku can still improve, but it is a promising sign that he has addressed his biggest weakness in the last couple of years.

Plenty of young players spend time bulking up in the gym and enhancing their physique shortly after coming through the ranks, but that was never an issue for a naturally well-built striker who towered over seasoned and battle-scarred centre-backs as a teenager in Belgium.

Instead, Lukaku had to develop his technique in tight areas; his touch occasionally let him down and his back-to-goal play was not as strong as it could have been, but he has made plenty of positive steps in the right direction.

He is now better able to keep possession under pressure, while a return of nine league assists since the start of last season indicates that he is enjoying greater success when it comes to linking up with and providing for teammates.

If Lukaku can continue to make progress with regards to his hold-up play, there is no reason why he cannot go on to greater things in the years ahead.

On paper, he has the full package: he is capable of running in behind opposing backlines as well as dropping deep, while his powerful frame means he can get the better of defenders through brute force if more subtle means do not bear fruit.

Of most significance is a tremendous scoring record of a goal every other game at Everton, with such figures almost certain to have earned him a place on the wishlists of some of Europe’s elite outfits.

Chelsea would consider that they belong to such a group, which is why those associated with the club must look back at their sanctioning of Lukaku’s departure in 2014 with regret.

He may have been raw and unrefined but his potential was clear for all to see, and Lukaku has subsequently proven at Goodison Park that he is one of the most lethal centreforwards around.

Best of all, he is still only 23.

When Jack Rodwell made his Everton debut at the tender age of 16 years and 364 days in March 2008, it was presumed to be the start of something special.

A club whose academy had produced a Premier League great in Wayne Rooney a few years previously had developed another gem: a gifted central midfielder who was expected to have a long and fruitful career in the English top flight.

At the moment, though, that prediction is in danger of going unfulfilled. Rodwell has failed to hit the heights that were anticipated, with the Rodwell, 25, currently plying his trade for bottom-of-the-table Sunderland after a miserable two-season spell at Manchester City, where he began only seven Premier League matches and often did not even make the substitutes’ bench.

A £10m move to Sunderland in the summer of 2014 seemed to make sense for all parties, but Rodwell has not yet made the most of the opportunity.

His first season at the club went reasonably well, but it was notable that the three-time England international was only ever a rare starter in the Sam Allardyce-led revival that secured Sunderland’s Premier League status against the odds last term.

Being reunited with former Everton boss David Moyes at the Stadium Of Light has not yet had a positive effect, either: Sunderland are rooted to the foot of the standings after amassing just two points from the 30 available so far, while the midfielder’s remarkable run of failing to win a league game he has started now stands at 35, dating all the way back to Manchester City’s 1-0 triumph over West Bromwich Albion in May 2013.

It would be unfair to hold Rodwell solely response for such a lengthy barren stretch, but it is evidently the type of record that no player wants to be associated with.

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