As the summer transfer window moves ever closer, it's a safe bet that any and all headlines involving Romelu Lukaku will involve his repeatedly-stated desire to leave the club. Between this and the club's miserable end to the season, it would be perhaps understandable if thoughts of the big Belgian leave a bitter taste in the mouths of supporters.
This is a shame, because Lukaku is the best striker that Everton have had in a long, long time, and he is one of the best under-23 forwards in the world.
What he did well
By the traditional standards of offensive production, Lukaku was again a top forward in the English game:
To add a bit of color to the analysis, we can look at Paul Riley's expected goals and expected assists numbers. [Skip this paragraph if you are familiar with xG and xA, or read Michael Caley's great explanation here. Expected goals and assists try to measure chance quality rather than outcome. One of the reasons this is valuable is because creation of chances is more repeatable statistically than conversion of chances. In other words, it's generally a better sign for the future if a player is creating or attempting lots of good chances rather than if that player is taking a bunch of bad chances and converting them at a very high rate. What's tricky is that if we only look at goals and assists, those two players can appear to be the same].
With respect to Lukaku, it's a good sign that he shows up high on both lists. We can say with a bit of confidence that his performances this season was due more to repeatable attributes (skill, quality, etc.), than non-repeatable (luck, etc.). He also took a ton of shots (3rd in the league), and played a really impressive 3177 minutes.
What's really impressive is that he's been doing this for a few years now. Since Everton took him on loan at the start of the 2013-14 season, no other striker has played more minutes, and only Sergio Agüero has taken more shots and shots on target. Over that span, he is third in non-penalty goals and assists, behind Agüero and Olivier Giroud. It's extremely rare for a team like Everton to have a player for three seasons who can compete at this level and at this consistency. The fact that he just turned 23 is the icing on the cake; along with Harry Kane, Lukaku is a true young gem of a Premier League striker, simultaneously proven yet also full of potential.
What he could do better
It's fair to say that Rom disappeared somewhat down the stretch. Then again, so did the entire team. Really, it was bad. As I also noted above, the dude has played a ton of minutes and was basically asked to carry the side for long stretches. With that being said, at times it did seem like he was mentally drifting in and out of games and tactically he was often undisciplined. Again, though, it is very hard to disassociate this with the general disorganization of the team under Martinez.
Another point of contention has been his hold-up play and general ability to keep possession and link play, especially in transition. While he is certainly still prone to the 'ole lead boot every now and then, I actually thought he was much improved in this arena this season.
Below is a table of what could roughly be considered to be the best 10 strikers in the Premier League this season (minimum 50% of available minutes, sorted alphabetically). In terms of both dispossessions and passing accuracy, Lukaku was mostly on par with his peers (Jamie Vardy is a bit of an outlier here--though when you consider Leicester's unique system, it's not surprising that Vardy would almost never be dispossessed but also have a terrible pass%).
If anything, I might knock Rom a bit for his lack of defensive contribution. Granted I'm not sure Martinez was really asking him to do any defending, but it was sometimes notable how little Lukaku was involved. Indeed, he registered some pretty measly interception and tackle numbers. (Obligatory caveat about defensive stats: they are extremely imperfect as a measure of how good a player is at defending, but they can at least be useful as a rough measure of how involved a player was in breaking up play. It's always worth keeping in mind with these numbers the tactical system the player was deployed in).
It would be interesting to see how Lukaku does in a system that asks more of him defensively. As of now, this side of his game is mostly untested.
The summer ahead
Lukaku should feature heavily for Belgium at this summer's European Championships. He has also made it abundantly clear that he has a desire to move on from the club in the upcoming transfer window. However, he is still under contract so Everton will rightly be demanding a massive transfer fee. Given his age and level of production, the club should look to sell at something in the £60-80 million range and reinvest those funds in replacements.
Final grade: A
If this is indeed the last season of Lukaku's Everton career, it's been a fitting cap to sterling three years. Rom is the kind of player whose mere presence on the teamsheet excites fans and terrorizes defenders. He's been fearless, feisty, and downright nasty. Whatever happens this summer, try to remember the good times.