It’s a valid question isn't it? They say absence makes the heart grow fonder but after Romelu Lukaku’s comments this week about needing Champions League football next season it’s worth reviewing his progress this year, from a statistical point of view.
Goals and assists
On paper nine goals and five assists is an excellent return from eighteen games, and when you look closely at the detail you’ll see that his goals have directly influenced the result of four games. His first two appearances, West Ham United and Newcastle United, then the 3-3 with Liverpool and the last minute winner against Southampton. Add those points up, that’s eight points directly gained from Lukaku’s goals. His assists meanwhile contributed directly to points against Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion, so three points there. In total Lukaku has contributed eleven points to our season. If you judge this against the top strikers in the Premier League you’d find him behind Emmanuel Adebayor, Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres, and Loic Remy, these are players that make the difference in the tightest games. Lukaku is ahead of Robin Van Persie, Samuel Eto’o, Olivier Giroud and the Manchester City duo Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo. In mitigation for the two City players their propensity to hammer teams means that there are less points to win for goalscorers. What does this mean? Well statistically you could put the big Belgian up there with the best, just behind Remy, but statistics don’t tell the whole story, otherwise Adam Johnson would be more important to his team than Giroud or Aguero – his points won are higher than both those frontmen.
In terms of key passes in a game Lukaku’s five assists is pretty decent, but his total of seventeen key passes is behind seven of his teammates, including James McCarthy, Gareth Barry, and our two fullbacks, Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines. The highest rated forward players in the Premier League are Eden Hazard (57), Suarez (50) Wayne Rooney (34), even Christian Benteke (34) and Ricki Lambert (34) are way ahead of Lukaku. His pass accuracy of 65% is woeful, the next worse in the Everton team is Steven Naismith with 66% and we all know what opinions of him are… And that doesn’t take into account his 14m average pass distance, the shortest in the team. Again, compared to the best players: Aguero 84%, Van Persie 77%, Suarez 75%, Lukaku is right at the bottom of the list behind even Nickica Jelavic and Victor Anichebe. There are only five players (of those that have played at least five games) that have a worse success rate. And we’re a team that like and encourage passing.
You can see it with your eyes
These stats don’t really tell us anything we don’t know from watching our Belgian loanee. When he’s on his game he’s unplayable, we’ve seen it, especially in the Newcastle game, but one goal in the last nine games (discounting Liverpool) has shown the frustrating side to his game, link up play not happening, his awareness of teammates isn’t that strong. Now all strikers are confidence players to a point, but the very best don’t have long streaks of bad form, or when they do they’re still contributing to the team, these are the very reasons that Wayne Rooney can’t be considered in the highest bracket of player, he’s the epitome of a form player. So what’s the point of all this? Well, Lukaku clearly has a high opinion of himself and where he’s going with his career, and there were suggestions we should have splashed £25m on him in the transfer window. But I for one believe that is too much money on a player that is still too raw. I’m not doubting that in five years he won’t be a fearsome striker, but can we wait that long?