Romelu Lukaku played a starring role for Inter Milan at the weekend as the Nerazzurri staged a stunning second-half comeback from 2-0 down to beat bitter rivals AC Milan 4-2. His goal sealed the win for Inter, which saw them move to the top of Serie A on goal difference.
That goal capped off a brilliant performance from him and also took his tally to 21 this season in all competitions. The performance in the derby, like many others before, showed how the Belgian striker has been revitalised in Italy. Manchester United’s decision to sell him to the Italian club looked odd in August but now looks really foolish considering they’ve struggled to find a replacement for him.
The 26-year-old has hit the ground running since joining from United in the summer and has been a key cog in Antonio Conte’s wheel. How has the Italian manager revitalised Lukaku, who struggled at United last season?
Although he carries a £73 million price tag, he has demonstrated why he was worth the effort. When he first arrived in Milan to complete his medical he was greeted by hundreds of cheering fans which greatly boosted his confidence. He was often criticised while at United about his weight and first touch.
Part of his struggles at United was the insistence of playing him as a lone striker in a system that needed him to be a poacher. When he performed poorly and failed to score, the team suffered. However, at Inter, Conte’s 3-5-2 system has allowed Lukaku and his striking partner Lautaro Martinez to thrive.
They play close together, press high up the pitch, they interchange frequently and make runs in behind - things which are almost non-existent as a lone striker. Conte’s system has been fine-tuned for Lukaku’s skillset. Martinez and Lukaku have now scored a combined total of 37 goals for Inter and their partnership is drawing comparisons with that of Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o which led Inter to their last Serie A title in 2010.
The Belgian record goalscorer hit double digits when he scored against Torino in November, becoming the first Inter debutant to reach this mark in his first 13 games for 71 years. He has scored 17 league goals so far which is five more than he had the whole of last season for United.
Since leaving the Red Devils, Lukaku has improved in probably every facet of his game. He scores a lot more, shoots more, touches the ball more often and creates more chances for his team-mates.
One of the most notable reasons behind Lukaku's remarkable start to life in Italy is his relationship with Conte. Both have admired each other's abilities from afar for years. Conte made an attempt to sign the striker when he became Chelsea boss in 2016, only to be beaten to his signature by United.
He is loving life at Inter at the moment and, if they’re going to win their first Scudetto since 2010, Lukaku will be one of the reasons that everything goes to plan.