In 11 second half minutes, Romelu Lukaku showed why Jose Mourinho was wrong, then right, then wrong, then – ultimately – right to loan his services to Everton for the season.
Having bludgeoned a free kick through the wall (in contrast to Luis Suarez’s first half perfectly targeted shot through the gap left, so inexplicably, by Stephen Pienaar), the big Belgian showed an opportunism given only to (dare I say) top, top strikers. He got into the box and stood, more or less still, while defenders and team-mates swarmed back and forth. Sure enough, the space and the ball came to him and a cool sidefooted finish was enough to breach Mignolet’s excellent defence of his goal. “Why on earth isn’t he doing it for Chelsea?” must have passed through the minds of every Shed regular.
Just six minutes later, he was bursting through an open Liverpool midfield, gone missing again on a day in which they did not suggest that they could drive a Title challenge. With time to think, with instinct being pushed back by intelligence, that telltale momentary hesitation bubbled up into his mind and he played a dismal ball to an oncoming team-mate. Mourinho’s desire for the 20 year-old to have plenty of game time to build the experience required to realise his potential, suddenly looked like a smart move.
Roll forward five more minutes and Lukaku is showing another dimension to his game, rising to power a header into the net from a regulation corner. It’s not just his size and strength that makes him a real threat from crosses, but a superb Tim Cahillesque timing in meeting the ball with his head – fearlessness helps too. Jose’s wrong again!
But, in the final analysis, Jose is right. Romelu is raw – he has played 160 senior matches and won’t have played the full 90 minutes in all those. His game is still “natural” relying on imposing physical gifts and instinct. His ceiling is very high, but it’s still a long way off. The Champions League – Chelsea’s primary target – is no place to explore potential: not if you aspire to winning it. And, with Jose’s other options for domestic matches, how much gametime would Lukaku get in the blue of Chelsea – not as much as in the blue of Everton, for sure.
The young man is a quick learner and is working with a manager who has much to teach him and players who are adjusting together to his methods – as much off the field as on it. At 20, Lukaku has responsibility for a big Premier League club, an adoring fanbase and a local press desperate for attention. Deal with that, learn how to think on the ball, play more matches in front of hostile full houses, and, at 21, he’ll be the finished article. And that’s two points denied to Liverpool by the big fella’s goals.
Not for the first time, Jose Mourinho appears to know what he’s doing.