Romelu surely wants to forget the Champions League Final as soon as possible. And the World Cup as well.
Inter showed an excellent performance in the Champions League final. Most fans expected an easy game for Manchester City, but the Italians surprised everyone. The Inzaghi team was eager to take and possess the ball, press actively, and abandon a low defense... Most importantly, Inter did not let City showcase its most vital qualities. However, the Italian club had one anti-hero in their lineup – Romelu Lukaku. He missed some great scoring opportunities and even spoiled a sharp goal-scoring moment for his teammate.
The concluded season was pure pain for the Belgian. He "buried" Inter's chances in the Champions League and Belgium's national team in the World Cup in Qatar. What on earth happened to Romelu?
Lukaku's problems began back in 2021. He had an excellent season with Inter and then Chelsea. The Londoners brought back the Belgian, who played for the team from 2011 to 2014, for €113 million (the most expensive transfer in the club's history at that time). But Chelsea expected more from the costly player. Lukaku scored only 15 goals in 44 matches of the season. In January 2022, he gave a controversial interview expressing his love for "Inter" and his dissatisfaction with his situation at Chelsea: "One day, I will return to Inter. But not to end my career, but at the peak of my form so we can win trophies and succeed. I constantly think about Milan, about Milan, about Milan. The fans of 'Inter' are the best in the world. I love this city; it was the best stage of my career. I adore Italy, and 'Inter' is in my heart. I find myself in a situation where it seems to me, Tuchel could have played me more often. But that doesn't mean I criticize him.
On the contrary, I respect his choices. I need to work and wait for my moment. Tuchel and I are trying to find a tactical scheme in which we understand each other."
Lukaku angered the management, fans of Chelsea, and Tuchel. In the summer, the Londoners got rid of the disruptive player by loaning him to beloved Inter. "It's a strong feeling; I remember what I felt a year ago with this team, and it was a great moment for the team, the fans, and myself personally. We talked about many things; for example, it seemed impossible to return here, but we did it. I must also thank the club's president for insisting and believing it was possible," the forward remarked after the transfer.
However, Lukaku's time in "Inter" went better the first time. For example, in the 2020/2021 season, he finished with 30 goals and 10 assists in 44 games. He concludes with 14 goals and seven assists in 37 games in the current campaign. His transfer value (according to Transfermarkt's estimation) dropped from €100 million to €40 million.
What are the reasons for the failure this season?
Romelu Lukaku had occasionally missed matches due to injuries before. However, the 2022/2023 season was an anomaly. He missed 18 games due to knee ligaments, hamstring injuries, and other knee problems. His previous worst record was missing nine games for Chelsea in the 2021/2022 season (three of which were due to COVID-19). Romelu struggled to regain his form, and constant injuries hindered his conditioning. This affected his performance and his place in the starting lineup. Forward Edin Dzeko became the central striker for Inter, while Lukaku appeared more frequently as a substitute.
The injuries affected Lukaku's form, which, in turn, influenced people's visual perception of the Belgian player. Lukaku looked heavy and was unable to perform the workload expected of him. Most importantly, he frequently missed incredible goal-scoring opportunities. This quintessence was the 3rd round match of the 2022 World Cup against Croatia (0-0). Romelu came on as a substitute early in the second half and had five shots but only hit the target twice. The first incident occurred in the 60th minute when Lukaku hit the post, despite Livakovic being in the goal. Two minutes later, Lukaku missed the target again from a promising position, heading the ball too high. Then, Lukaku wasted two more clear chances towards the end of the match. Belgium only needed one goal to advance to the playoffs, but Lukaku deprived the team of that opportunity.
Lukaku's nightmare in the Champions League Final
In Serie A, Lukaku did not have such terrible match performances (although there were some comical misses). Still, he wants to immediately forget the Champions League final against Manchester City. He became a substitute in the 57th minute, replacing the injured Edin Dzeko. Lukaku spoiled his first chance in the 71st minute. He was indirectly at fault: Romelu got in the way of the ball after Federico Dimarco's header toward the goal, which Ederson had left. Yes, the Inter defender's shot was not the strongest, and Ruben Dias, who was in the plan, might have been able to block it. But still, it was a golden opportunity. Unfortunately for Lukaku, he ruined it.
Then, in the 88th minute, the Inter forward missed a great chance. Robin Gosens played a cross into the center of the penalty area, and Lukaku headed the ball from five meters out but managed to hit Ederson's leg. If the shot had gone in the other direction, Inter would have equalized. And a minute later, Lukaku missed the target from a favorable position with a powerful image. According to WhoScored, Lukaku received a rating of 6.04 for the match. Only Hakan Çalhanoğlu (5.94) performed worse for Inter among those who played at least 30 minutes. Sky Sports named Lukaku, the worst player of the match, giving him a rating of 4/10.
The Belgian forward failed in the two most crucial matches of the season for himself. The situation was partly influenced by Lukaku's injuries and poor physical condition throughout most of the season (although he looked great toward the end). However, it isn't easy to find objective factors that caused the ball to magnetically avoid Romelu in important matches or deflect from him anywhere but the net.
Inter's president, Steven Zhang, did not respond to whether Lukaku would stay at the club after the final:
"Romelu loves Inter, that's obvious. He's a great guy, but he has a
contract with Chelsea. We must wait and talk to the club to clarify
Lukaku needs to forget the season that just ended. He must regain his form and showcase his best qualities regardless of where he starts the next one. The troubles he faces affect how the public perceives him. It is unlikely that he deserves a negative reputation. Lukaku, at his peak, is one of the top five best forwards in the world.