Few would have thought that Inter’s draw against Paulo Fonseca’s Roma would add another point to their lead at the top of Serie A. But that is what it did, as Juventus lost 3-1 to Roma’s fierce rivals Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico. Despite that positive, things could have been very different for Antonio Conte’s men, and Romelu Lukaku would know that.
In the first half, the Nerazzurri were given multiple opportunities to take the lead. They had four attempts in goal in the first half – a majority of them coming from the fact that Roma gave the ball away cheaply. But Inter could not take advantage of that and in the end, so the goalless draw was rather justified.
At the end of the game, the fans loved the embrace involving Lukaku and Chris Smalling. But for those who didn’t watch the game, they had rather contrasting performances. While Smalling was the Man of the Match, Lukaku once again came up with a poor showing against a top-six side.
While the Belgian has found the back of the net 11 times in 19 games in all competitions (via Whoscored), it is a familiar weakness for him. It dates back to his time at Manchester United and it has carried on since then. So far this season, Lukaku has scored in just one ‘big game’ for Inter. Roma wasn’t one of those games.
But it was the following of a pattern. Smalling was dominant aerially and physically against Lukaku. The Englishman, who was being watched by Gareth Southgate, won four aerial duels, made two interceptions, and three clearances as well (via Whoscored).
He was constantly marking his former Manchester United teammate, not allowing him much room or space to work with. Smalling, of course, knows a lot about him during their time together at Old Trafford and Fonseca tapped into that which worked out.
Lukaku won only 33% of his aerial duels and could play only 11 accurate passes in the game. He had only one tackle to his name, but that was when he was dribbled past. He couldn’t complete a single dribble himself (via Whoscored).
It was a reflection of how Lukaku can be poor playing against burly centre-backs. Against Borussia Dortmund, Mats Hummels was on him all game. He was dispossessed twice, while Hummels won four aerial duels. In the second half, he was taken off.
Against Juventus, he was up against Leonardo Bonucci. While the Italian didn’t have too good a game, Lukaku didn’t either. He did win four aerial duels and complete two dribbles. But he didn’t complete a single key pass and had a poor passing accuracy of 62%.
He wasn’t at his best against Lazio either. All of his goals have come up against smaller clubs, with one coming against AC Milan. That shows how Lukaku is yet to completely address this problem of his play.
After Lukaku scored against Milan, Conte said that there was still room for improvement. He told reporters (via Daily Mail via DAZN):
“He can give much more, certainly. I told him that too. He is 26 years old and arrived here thanks to his potential. If we work with him properly, he can become extremely important.”
But the upcoming Champions League game against Barcelona will be huge. He will be out to avenge the manner in how the Catalans beat United in the quarter-finals of the competition last season. He will also be out to show the world that he can fire against big clubs.
It will be a must-win game for Inter if they are to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League. The Belgian was missing in the reverse fixture, as Lautaro Martinez and Alexis Sanchez had started up front in front of Clement Lenglet and Gerard Pique.
Lukaku will be out to prove detractors wrong. But there’s every chance he doesn’t. If he does, it will only do him a lot of good.