Sunday 21 January 2018

Everton reaping benefits of keeping Lukaku fit

Romelu Lukaku has scored six times in Everton's last five matches
Romelu Lukaku has scored six times in Everton's last five matches

Tim Rich

When Chelsea carry out the full inquest into their disintegration, it is likely some of the most damning phrases will be reserved for their transfer policy under Jose Mourinho.

This is the club that imagined Kevin De Bruyne was surplus to requirements and thought his fellow Belgian Romelu Lukaku was not quite good enough for Stamford Bridge.

While De Bruyne is now a contender for the title of Footballer of the Year, Lukaku goes into tonight's meeting with Crystal Palace having scored six times in Everton's last five matches.

When Roberto Martinez remarked that Lukaku's fitness record gives him an edge over Sergio Aguero or Daniel Sturridge (another Chelsea striker who got away), it was not just managerial hyperbole.

Lukaku is, at 22, younger than either, he averages a goal every other game for Everton, and, unlike the other two, he stays fit.

This season, Lukaku, a striker Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew compares to Didier Drogba, has missed a bare 41 minutes of football.

"Any player who can stay fit gives you an incredible base to work on," said Martinez.

"Any foreign player arriving in the Premier League has to adapt to the physicality of the competition. For a player like him, with his frame, I don't think he had the opportunity to play enough 90 minutes.

"When he was at West Brom he had an incredible scoring ratio [17 goals in 20 league appearances] even though he completed a full 90 minutes only seven times.

"For a young player, until you get the full 90 minutes without losing the power and the pace in every action, it's a long process.

"Now it is very rare you don't see him finish the last 10 minutes with the same power, pace and control. On top of that, he can play three games a week, which is quite remarkable for a player of his size."

One consequence of Chelsea's downfall is that there will almost certainly be a Champions League place for someone outside English football's big four. Everton and Palace are among the contenders.

Everton's traditional weak­ness in the Premier League has been the lack of a high-class centre-forward - the last Everton striker to manage more than 20 league goals was Gary Lineker in 1985/'86.

When the club last qualified for the Champions League a decade ago, Tim Cahill was their leading scorer with 11.

But in Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley and John Stones, Martinez has a core of young players around which to build for the long term.

Next season, Everton, like the rest of the Premier League, will have a greater media revenue than either Real Madrid or Barcelona. They will not have to sell.

Barcelona do have a buy-back option on Deulofeu which they can exercise next summer for €9m, but it is unlikely the 21-year-old will swap a central role at Goodison for a walk-on part at the Nou Camp.

© Independent News Service

Everton v Crystal Palace Live, Sky Sports 1, 7.45

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