An analysis of Romelu Lukaku's performance in Everton's win over Middlesbrough
Romelu Lukaku, it seems, is back, and he hasn’t half come back with a bang. After failing to find the net for Everton in 13 games from the back end of 2015/16 and running into the new season, he hit a hat-trick last Monday at Sunderland, before getting on the score-sheet again this weekend on Matchday five, nicking the faintest of touches on Yannick Bolasie’s cross-cum-shot to put the gloss on a 3-1 win over newly promoted Middlesbrough and lift Ronald Koeman’s Toffees up to the dizzy heights of second place in the Premier League.
Early days it may be, but the return to form of their main man up top will be a massive boost to Everton as they seek to consolidate their current position in their bid for European football, and despite not having as clinical a game as he may have had on Monday of Matchday four, he impressed once again back in front of his home crowd.
His link-up play with Yannick Bolasie, Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas behind him was a root cause of Middlesbrough’s problems on Merseyside, but it was another candidate in the first-half who profited from Lukaku’s unselfishness. Seamus Coleman’s run in behind was spotted by Lukaku, who glanced Yannick Bolasie’s through-ball off his left-boot to play in the Irishman who finished with all the instinct of a 20-goals-a-season striker to put Everton 2-1 ahead after they’d trailed earlier on through a controversial own goal by Maarten Stekelenburg.
His assist was one of three key passes he played in the final third during the game, and he wasn’t afraid to run at his man either, sustaining his seasonal home average of five completed dribbles beyond an opponent per game.
Holding up the ball is a large part of his game, as shown by the one aerial duel he won in the game, the two fouls he drew and the four occasions he was dispossessed in trying to keep the ball to link with teammates. Much of that is owed to his strength in holding off opponents, and he used that to great effect to roll off his man and work himself into goal-scoring positions, where he enjoyed four efforts on goal against the visitors, including his eventual strike.
He is far more deadly in the right areas when provided with the service required from his team-mates, but he is able to work himself into space to create his own chances, three of his four efforts coming from outside the 18-yard box. Though, that may be a testament to how Middlesbrough’s defensive pairing of Daniel Ayala and Ben Gibson were able to restrict him from getting too much joy in the danger area.
His goal was a show of both a forward’s instinct to get into key positions, and an example of flamboyant improvisation. Yannick Bolasie’s attempted cross was curling towards goal, where Lukaku was lurking having remained onside to slip between Daniel Ayala and Ben Gibson, and peel free in the penalty area. Having eluded both centre-halves and finally gotten the space he craved, he misjudged the header but improvised with a flailing left leg, glancing the ball off his lace to help the bending ball beyond Victor Valdes and give Everton a two-goal cushion right before the break.
Lukaku has now scored against 21 different clubs in the Premier League, and he was beginning to remind supporters of his importance to Everton and why they were right to dig their heels in over him in the wake of Chelsea’s interest over the summer.
That was as good as it got for him though, after he received a knock to his foot and was replaced on 66 minutes by debutant Enner Valencia.
His strike however took his tally to six goals in three games for club and country, and with a mid-week EFL Cup tie against Norwich followed by a trip to Bournemouth in the Premier League next on the agenda for Everton, manager Ronald Koeman will be hoping to have the 23-year-old fit for selection and raring to go as soon as possible in the hope that he can continue to replicate his form for what is currently a resurgent Everton side.
Lukaku himself is beginning to get back to his best after a slow start to the season, but it is vital that injury does not disrupt that momentum now.
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