Lukaku and Chelsea mean business this season – just ask Virgil van Dijk
It was billed by The Telegraph as the ‘showdown that’ll kickstart the Premier League season into life’.
And most observers were eagerly awaiting the confrontation between the league’s best centre-back and one of the league’s best strikers.
Romelu Lukaku was welcomed back to Stamford Bridge with open arms following his £97.5million move from Inter Milan. Chelsea lacked firepower last season, with Timo Werner becoming the first footballer in history to play a whole season with a pair of toasters on his feet. Lukaku wasn’t just a vanity signing – he was a necessity.
And the Belgium international got off the mark on his second debut for the club with a tidy finish against the league’s current basketcase (Arsenal, to you and me folks). But the prospect of facing Virgil van Dijk was a different kettle of fish altogether.
On the face of it, it was a confrontation that Van Dijk won. By the hour mark, Lukaku had managed just 18 touches – fewer than any other starter – and this included both goalkeepers and Van Dijk himself.
That’s what sensible people would say. The type of people who never have cereal for their evening meal and who own a funky coloured tie to wear on dress-down Fridays.
But the real quiz? That was always going to be their first 50:50 challenge, where the two heavyweights metaphorically donned their armour, climbed on their horse and charged at each other with jousting sticks in hand.
Van Dijk thought he’d sufficiently got himself goalside, but reckoned without Lukaku muscling him out of possession and bundling him to the floor. 1-0 Romelu.
The packed Anfield stands were treated to two matches in one – the first half was a blockbuster of the highest quality, with incident and chances galore.
But, after the sending-off of Reece James, Chelsea dug in to ensure they didn’t leave empty-handed and gave the second-half a certain arthouse quality.
Lukaku may not have scored, but his willingness to stand up to the league’s most prominent centre-back is a healthy indication that he means business.
And it was his and Chelsea’s performance, rather than the easy wins they’d accumulated previously, that shows they’ll surely be title contenders this season.
By Michael Lee