The Lukaku Problem and the Myth of a Number Nine

by   |   16/06/2017  23 Comments  [Jump to last]

As Evertonians, we have waited a long time for a 20 goal-a-season man.

We tried Bent, Beattie, Johnson, Yakubu, Anichebe, Vaughan, Saha, Jelavic – none of whom were up to the task (although in fairness the Yak & Saha had their moments, but invariably each were struck down by injury).

Romelu Lukaku represents (almost) everything we want from Our Striker - but perhaps the job description is changing.

Everton scored 67 goals last season, 26 of which were from Romelu. The next highest scorer was Barkley (6) followed by Mirallas & Coleman with 4 each.

I have enjoyed Lukaku as much as the next Evertonian but, if he was less selfish, the other players around him would score more goals. Put Dele Alli in our team, would he score nearly the number of goals he does for Tottenham? Or would Son, would Eriksen? Taking another team into consideration, would Pedro or even Hazard?

The selfless running from other teams' front men – Kane and Costa the best examples – create invaluable space for the other attackers to get in behind and through opponents back lines. The way Lukaku plays between the posts is fine if you have a team getting to the byline and whipping in crosses; but not if you have the two flowing inside forwards that Koeman seems to favour. Perhaps this is what Koeman saw Deulofeu providing when he was put up front while Lukaku was injured.

With the flowing inside forwards you need a striker who will make selfless runs to draw defenders, who will drop deep to pull them out of position, as well as finish HIS chances when he gets them. Arguably our best team in the Premier League era was the one with Marcus Bent up front, who would have scored more were he not lacking the finishing skills that would have made him a much more expensive striker.

To quote Moneyball, Everton need to find 26 goals; not a 26-goal striker.

When you think we are requiring 26 goals, it seems much easier to replace the man we trusted to score them. Find a front man with a mixture of power, pace and a footballing brain that will allow the two forwards and three midfielders around him to get 5-10 goals each and the problem is solved.

As always, COYB.

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Reader Comments (23)

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Mike Gaynes
1 Posted 16/06/2017 at 18:01:39
Robert, your theory only works if the players around the front man are good enough to score. Ross and Kev aren't even on the same planet with Alli and Pedro and Hazard.

It's a matter of opinion, but I don't think the lack of selfless running from Rom is the reason we have no other consistent scorers in the side. I just think it's a lack of goalscoring quality.

Phil (Kelsall) Roberts
2 Posted 16/06/2017 at 18:46:10
84-85 – 88 goals by 13 players, 40 from the strikers (Sharp, Heath, Gray)

86-87 – 76 goals by 17 players, 24 from 4 strikers. Won the league, Cup-Winners Cup, and a hair's breadth from the double.

85-86 – 87 goals from 13 players, 30 from Lineker plus 29 from Sharp & Heath. Won nothing.

Love that statistics prove anything

Mike Andrews
3 Posted 16/06/2017 at 19:53:06
Phil, if this were Facebook I would "like" that!
Mike Andrews
4 Posted 16/06/2017 at 19:57:39
ps: We came exceedingly close.
Jay Wood
5 Posted 16/06/2017 at 20:33:56
Sorry Robert, but your OP appears extremely flawed to me:

"Everton scored 67 goals last season, 26 of which were from Romelu. The next highest scorer was Barkley (6) followed by Mirallas & Coleman with 4 each. I have enjoyed Lukaku as much as the next Evertonian but, if he was less selfish, the other players around him would score more goals."

Eh? Complete non sequitur, for me.

Followed by: "Arguably our best team in the Premier League era was the one with Marcus Bent up front, who would have scored more were he not lacking the finishing skills that would have made him a much more expensive striker."

Riggghhhttt.... No, I'll just leave that one hanging there.

Finally you offer:

"To quote Moneyball, Everton need to find 26 goals; not a 26-goal striker. When you think we are requiring 26 goals, it seems much easier to replace the man we trusted to score them. Find a front man with a mixture of power, pace and a footballing brain that will allow the two forwards and three midfielders around him to get 5-10 goals each and the problem is solved."

Phhtt! 'king easy this management and player recruitment lark, innit?

Robert, it is not simply a case of making up for (potentially) losing Lukaku's goals next season. Our net goal tally wasn't anywhere near enough to challenge for those ever higher positions in the Premier League. We need Lukaku's 26 PLUS another 15-20 ON TOP OF THAT!

For the first time in the Premier League era (and beyond), we have a 25 goals a season striker. If Lukaku leaves, that effectively leaves us searching for the player(s) who can provide the bulk of the (now...) 40-50 goal shortfall needed to kick on to the next level.

So, nope! I can't agree with any of your offered premises.

Jim Hardin
6 Posted 17/06/2017 at 00:59:26
Given the lack of quality around him, I actually wouldn't blame Rom for supposedly being selfish (which is not true given the layoffs and the assists he had).

Why waste one of the precious few chances our midfielders and forwards produce on players who are going to lose the ball or sky it into the stands?
Gerry Quinn
7 Posted 17/06/2017 at 01:06:47
Everton have identified Napoli-owned striker Duvan Zapata as the heir to Romelu Lukaku, claims Sportitalia.

The Colombia international certainly shares quite a few characteristics with Lukaku, as both are powerful centre-forwards, strong in the air and surprisingly quick.

According to Sportitalia, Everton intermediaries are in contact with Napoli and laying the groundwork for a bid.

The Partenopei want €20m for the 26-year-old, who spent the last two seasons on loan with Udinese.

This term he scored 11 goals with five assists in 39 competitive games for the Friulani.

Robert Leigh
8 Posted 17/06/2017 at 06:41:17
Thank you for your comments, gentlemen. I take everything on board and agree with some of what you say; enjoyable to discuss these things when we are making some signings!

I was also trying to allude to the way Koeman plays, and Jay, I agree with your comment but I was trying to say the goals would come from more sources than just one, but if they did and we still had a 25-goal-a-season man, even better!

Dave Abrahams
9 Posted 17/06/2017 at 09:26:56
Firstly, you can't keep a player who wants to go, is determined to go, so he will go.

Let's see how we do without Lukaku. I don't think it will be as bad as some fans think. Everton will play much more as a team and the attacks will not mainly go through one man.

Just my opinion, and I for one will not miss Rom.

Jim Harrison
10 Posted 17/06/2017 at 14:46:28
I actually think you are right, Robert. To a certain degree

All the current top teams have multiple players who score a decent amount of goals, spreading the load.

But.... All except Liverpool have an outstanding striker who gets 20 plus. Liverpool do though have 3 very good forwards who get a decent total each.

A good spread of goals is important.

Jim Knightley
11 Posted 17/06/2017 at 14:55:47
I understand the logic of this article, but it seems a little simplistic to me. It lays the blame re. a lack of goals from the midfield at the feet of the person responsible for the lion share of them, whilst ignoring the chances he created and his excellent assist record.

To quote Moneyball, and centralise a statistical approach, should also be to recognise Lukaku's benefit as a creator in this regard. Obviously he is not supreme in this respect, but his assist record and chance creation stats are up there with some of the best in the league for central strikers.

Notably, Belgium score goals from other positions with Lukaku in the team – why isn't he holding their midfield players back? Whilst Lukaku's game has issues, we need to work on improving the attacking players behind him. They are simply not good enough if we want to improve, and there is surely an argument to be made that Lukaku could improve with the likes of Alli and Eriksen behind him, or Silva and De Bryunne, rather than Calvert-Lewin, Barkley and Mirallas...

Lukaku is likely on his way, and although we could find someone who works harder, we will invariably suffer from the absence of his goals. Players who put the ball in the net are in big demand, even those like Higauin who do not work hard for the team.

I feel that the criticisms of Lukaku exaggerate his negatives and downplay his obvious positives, even if they've been motivated by his desire to leave. I've no doubt that a more loyal Lukaku would have more fans on side.

Steve Ferns
12 Posted 17/06/2017 at 17:42:25
If you want to go full Moneyball here, you are doing it wrong. We either have to replace the points that Lukaku won us, or the goal difference Lukaku got us.

It's been hammered to death by people other than myself that Lukaku is a "flat track bully", he only scores when the game is already won etc etc.

The actual loss to us without Lukaku in raw statistics is 9 points. That's what we need to replace. We've got a better keeper (well we all hope) so that could be another 3 points (Robles and Stekelenburg cost us more than one game so let's be conservative).

Then we only need to find six points. If we sign a centre back that might be another 3 points in shoring up the defence, due to mistakes made by Williams, Funes Mori and Jagielka. Also recall Holgate making a bad one.

Then attacking wise, the supply should be better with Klaassen and whoever else we bring in. Up top we need more width, and with Sandro (who I think will play wide left) and whoever actually replaces Rom in leading the line, should be able to replace the final three points.

But of course Moneyball doesn't apply to football. And you can't just dismiss everything else Rom did. We won games because of him, even where he didn't score the vital goals.

Andy Crooks
13 Posted 17/06/2017 at 21:35:11
Jim (#11) – that is an interesting post. However, a "more loyal Lukaku"? They are, with a very few exceptions, hired hands. I would play for Everton for what I get now (shite, by the way) but loyalty is not a requirement to be a footballer nowadays. Maybe that is okay.

However, I support the club, and my loyalty lies with Evertonians not with the transient owners... With those who eat shit burgers, drink warm beer, and look forward to the new season with insane optimism.

This time it is our turn.

Stan Lee
14 Posted 18/06/2017 at 18:20:24
My honest opinion is Lukaku should have had more goals last season. Admittedly Everton as a team should have had more. If Barkley could buy a pair of shooting boots, he'd be in double figures each and every season.

Lukaku's hold up play should be able to bring midfielders forward but mostly it's lost too cheaply. Far too often he has been the easy ball in defence and attack. Especially away from home, you need a selfless man up top to chase lost causes and pin teams back. Then the long ball becomes an option with the press.

The way to catch the top 4 is to win more games away from home not necessarily scoring hat fulls of goals although that would be nice.

Lukaku is not the right man for the job.

Jim Wilson
15 Posted 18/06/2017 at 21:14:35
All the strikers you mention are from the Moyes era, lone striker completely on his own. Lukaku wouldn't have got anywhere near double figures in a Moyes team and probably would have fallen out with Moyes within 6 months!
Jonathan Jones
16 Posted 19/06/2017 at 16:55:04
Steve (#12) – While I agree some goals are more important than others, and probably a decent share of Lukaku's goals didn't necessarily win us points, I think quantifying it as that figure of 9 points is oversimplifying things.

Presumably that figure is calculated by cancelling out any goals over and above the ones that put us one goal in front? However, say Lukaku scored two goals in a 2-0 win, I don't think that necessarily equates to a 'wasted' goal. What if that second goal was scored on 80 minutes, meaning a potentially nervy final 10 with the opposition pushing for an equaliser is now a comfortable 10 minutes where the opposition's heads have dropped.

I'm not saying the claims of Lukaku being a 'flat-track bully' are completely false, just that I don't think it's as easy to say 'x' number of his goals were pointless as they weren't the winning goal.

While Lukaku has his limitations, I find it difficult to understand why so many supporters are glad to see the back of him given his excellent scoring record, which none of our other strikers have come close to for over 20 years.

James Hughes
17 Posted 19/06/2017 at 17:22:31
Phil (#2),

We won the Cup Winners Cup in 1985, mate, plus the league. In 86-87, we won just the league.

John Smith
18 Posted 19/06/2017 at 17:50:37
"You need a striker who will make selfless runs to draw defenders, who will drop deep to pull them out of position, as well as finish HIS chances when he gets them."

While not a striker (although Davey put him their toward the end of his Everton career) that's what Tim Cahill gave us. He would run in toward the two centre-backs, drawing them both toward him. Having fallen for the trap, Cahill would then pass it out to Baines or Coleman for a whipped ball in reply, creating him a more open chance to head it in.

Eric Myles
19 Posted 20/06/2017 at 19:13:18
Phil (#2), and last season we had 67 goals from 18 players.
Lev Vellene
21 Posted 21/06/2017 at 18:15:37
I must admit, I always hoped Lukaku could buy into the Everton ethos, but considering both his young age and that Chelsea was his chosen club at an even younger age; he never even knew about the club that we all knew about before Abramovich came in with his billions!

So he's actually just an initially poor lad from nowhere (in his own mind), whatever happened later, and he can only relate to whatever money/fame he can get very quickly. I don't think he really worries to much about playing Champions League this year already, or only the following year (at best, with Everton). He feels that being seen as worth the money from his childhood football team (who are also playing in the Champions League, I'll admit), will prove that he himself has succeeded!

I almost feel sorry for him being so shallow that he don't want to build his own legacy wherever, but I also hope we can sell him for a load of money!

Am I evil, just because I want us to get Champions League qualification, and hope Chelsea messes up to only get Thursday matches next year??? :D

David Ellis
22 Posted 22/06/2017 at 08:14:19
I think it was a sensible OP. I also agree that the 26 goals was worth more than 9 points as per Jonathan's point at #16.

However football is a team game. It doesn't matter who the scores the goals its the total that matters. We need to score more goals and I am sure we will regardless of whether we have Lukaku on the pitch or not.

You can only have 11 players on at the same time so remove Lukaku and he will be replaced with a striker who you could expect to hit 12-14 goals within the number of games that Lukaku played (even if spread across more than one player). And a team that plays well should have several players chipping in with 8 or so a season and I would hope we will be signing a couple of players of this type over the summer (Klassen hopefully is one). This easily makes up the Lukaku shortfall.

But more important than that is how the team plays, the speed of counter attack, the off the ball movement – nothing to do with an individual player's ability to score all on their own – it's not how it works.

Russ Quinlan
23 Posted 22/06/2017 at 16:39:48
By the end of last season, I was sick of all the hype around Rom and him wanting to go to a Champions League Club.

In the following weeks it seems interest in him is waning (unless something is happening in the background) there is a deafening silence from his agent and himself. All the recent stories point towards Chelsea and Man Utd going after other targets and In the meantime we have bought two decent reinforcements and others could be soon on their way in.

I wondered what the thoughts were that if we also sign the other players linked (Sandro, Keane, Sigurdsson) do you think Rom is having 2nd thoughts about leaving. If these players all came in, that would add to the two already bought and some of the really good U23s hopefully coming through.

I have to say I was sick of his mouthing and would have been glad to get rid then, but would 'we' like to keep him, for at least a year, and see him link up with the exciting talent now coming into the Club?

Brian Wilkinson
24 Posted 25/06/2017 at 22:18:59
Only second thoughts Rom will have, if is the other clubs do not come in for him, the sooner this gets done along with Barkley the better.

Everton are moving forward and rebuilding, they have both made it clear they have their eyes elsewhere.

The way we are bringing players in now is refreshing, A season or so down the line and I can see both players kicking themselves for wanting away.

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