Every single time Everton plays a big opponent the same narrative gets trotted out - “Lukaku just isn’t that good, he disappears against the best competition”. Frankly it is a tired narrative. The type of lazy line the uninformed fan will say. And the truth is that it is a lie. Romelu Lukaku performs to a level on par with some of the best strikers in the world. And in some cases he even exceeds their performance.
To show this we’ve put together a few different charts. The first chart here is a look at every striker in the English Premier League compared against Lukaku in several key categories.
In blue we have Lukaku’s totals in 5 key metrics. All of the numbers here come from Better Soccer Stats and from left to right we have goals scored per 90 minutes, total shots per 90 minutes, shots on target per 90 minutes, key passes per 90 minutes, and successful dribbles per 90 minutes.
All of the stats are adjusted for per 90 minutes to account for players being subbed on/off.
As we see, compared to strikers across the Premier League, Lukaku is excellent. He scores at more than twice the rate of the normal striker, takes more shots, puts more on target, and actually does better dribbling.
The one spot he lags is in key passes, but that also comes down to playing style. No one is going to accuse Lukaku of being a distributor. He is an out and out striker who is going to turn a player and score. He’s not going to fit in with Arsenalesque dribbling the ball in circles and laying it off.
This second chart takes a more exclusive look at strikers. Here Lukaku is compared against some of the best strikers across Europe. The averages we have calculated in red come from looking at strikers playing for top 6 teams in the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A, and Ligue 1. In this chart we also look at how often a striker is dispossessed, instead of shots on target.
Here Lukaku still scores more often than other strikers despite a similar number of shots. He is actually slightly more creative than these strikers, though not significantly so. Interestingly enough he also dribbles more often than these strikers which leads to higher number of times he was dispossessed, but also a higher number of times he gets a successful dribble. This likely comes down to surrounding talent and how strikers score goals. Lukaku’s patented goal by running 50 yards from midfield likely increases his chances of leading both categories.
Finally here is arguably the most important chart. A comparison of Lukaku against some of the best strikers in the Premier League.
Even the best strikers “disappear” in big games. That’s what happens when you play against the best teams. They have defenders that can actually make life difficult for a striker. Outside of Sergio Aguero, who is apparently a wizard, every striker sees their production cut approximately in half when facing top 6 teams. Remember that Lukaku is still doing this with a supporting cast that is not on the same level as the ones Diego Costa, Harry Kane, or Alexis Sanchez have as well. Arguably that makes his performance even more impressive.
The truth is that Lukaku is a great striker. He may get some stick in the media and from fans, but he’s worth every pound Everton paid for him and he should command one of the highest transfer fees in history. Strikers with Lukaku’s power, pace, and ability don’t show up very often. Now that he is off he may actually get the accolades he deserves, it is just unfortunate it won’t be with Everton.
This is why losing him is such a big blow. Lukaku has scored 20 or more goals across all competitions every year he has been at Everton. The last time a striker did that was 2007-2009 when Yakubu scored 21 goals. Before that, it was back in the mid 1990’s.
It isn’t easy to find this type of striker, let alone one that consistently scores 20 plus goals a season. Pretending Everton will be able to replace him with another striker or even a group of strikers and not suffer a drop off is naive. Could it happen, sure. But don’t bank on it. And don’t bank on Everton challenging for a Champions League berth without someone who can score like Lukaku.