Romelu Lukaku – Conte finally got his man but will he fit at Inter?

Inter Milan have smashed their transfer record to bring in Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku from Manchester United for a fee of around 80 million euros. The proposed transfer was one of the hottest topics this summer but the deal was finalised earlier this week; much to the relief of Nerazzurri fans who were concerned that the move was off.

Antonio Conte and Romelu Lukaku have made little secret of the fact that they are great fans of one another; the Belgian expressing his desire to play under Conte for some time whilst the new Inter head coach had his mind set on Lukaku from the very start of his tenure at the club.

Lukaku has received a lot of criticism in the past few seasons for Manchester United; many questioning whether or not he is worth the high market value that is attached to him. So, in this piece, I’m going to break down the forward’s statistics from the last season with Manchester United as I attempt to work out whether or not he is destined for success or failure with the Nerazzurri.

Is Lukaku any good?

As I previously mentioned, the Belgian has divided opinion. Some believe that he is a real talent whilst others dismiss him, focusing solely on his weaknesses and the infamous clips that circulate Twitter of the forward’s first touch and miscontrols.

This is my statistical breakdown of Lukaku. First and foremost, it is important to note that the Belgian is clinical and competent in front of goal. Despite registering just 12 goals in the Premier League last season, his lowest since the 14/15 campaign with Everton, much of this can be put down to the turmoil the club went through on a whole; slumping to a sixth place finish behind many of their closest rivals.

Despite his goal tally, Lukaku scored an impressive 21.2% of all his shots on goal, an extremely high statistic which shows just how dangerous he can be in front of goal. Furthermore, with 57.1% of his shots on target, from around 2.2 shots per 90 minutes, the Belgian is not wasteful and picks and chooses his chances; an important attribute for any striker to possess.

In addition, Lukaku possesses a high level of aerial ability. Out of the 7.01 duels he attempts per 90, he wins 45.3% of them; vital for holding up play as well as picking out a header from a set-piece or cross. The fact he attempts over 7 per 90 minutes also indicates that, at least for United anyway, he did not shy away from aerial battles and would challenge for it if he deemed it necessary; a trait that I am sure Conte will appreciate.

Lukaku’s main weakness is his dribbling. Last season for Manchester United, he attempted 3.25 per 90 and won just 50% of those battles. This could use some improving but given a change of scenery and proper coaching, this can definitely be worked on. Furthermore, he also has shown difficulties with creating chances for his teammates, with a low xA statistic as well as a pass accuracy of just over 70% last season for the Red Devils.

How does Lukaku compare with Mauro Icardi?

Alongside Lukaku, one of the other most discussed players of the transfer window so far has been existing Inter forward Mauro Icardi. The Argentine has been the centre of controversy in 2019 after being stripped of his captaincy and sitting out of the squad for some time, after growing tensions between the player and his wife-agent Wanda Nara and Inter themselves.

Even if Icardi ends up staying with Inter, Lukaku is for all intents and purposes his replacement at the club. From the chart below, I will explore the duo in comparison with one another and establish if Inter have upgraded with the Belgian.

The main thing about Lukaku and Icardi is that although they are fundamentally similar players, their varied strengths and weaknesses make them slightly different and one is more suited for certain roles than the other.

Icardi has a greater xA and pass accuracy %, meaning that he is generally more reliable in build-up play and chance creation. Conte will need his main striker to have good awareness of his teammates, given Conte’s 3-5-2 tactic and the two strikers that occupy within it. Lukaku’s statistics could be reflective of the fact that he played as a sole striker last season and this, therefore, did not give the best representation of his build-up attributes.

However, across the board, Lukaku appears to be a more competent striker than the Argentine. With a greater goal conversion % and shot accuracy %, Lukaku is less wasteful than Icardi; the latter also registering more shots per 90 minutes. Lukaku’s prolificacy will be vital to helping him make his mark in Italy; proving that you do not need to register 3 or 4 shots per match to make an impact in a goal-scoring sense.

Additionally, although Icardi and Lukaku share a similar percentage of aerial duels won, Lukaku attempts around double that of the Argentine forward, showing a tendency to go for those high balls as previously mentioned.

Interestingly, despite the criticism Lukaku receives for his dribbling, he has in fact better statistics than Icardi for this category. There is a real chance that Lukaku can improve further under Conte’s coaching and make the memes ridiculing his dribbling a thing of the past in this new environment.

Is he a good fit for Conte’s system?

This is a tough question to answer before we properly see the way that the Italian coach utilises his new signing. However, one way that we can see how he may fit is by comparing him to a striker who was used by Conte in a similar way to how we expect Lukaku will be at Inter.

Here is the comparison between Romelu Lukaku last season for Manchester United and the statistics of Spanish striker Diego Costa in the 16/17 campaign for Chelsea; where Conte was the manager and the club lifted the English Premier League trophy.

Once again, Lukaku triumphs in terms of his prolificacy in front of goal and his lack of wasted chances. With a higher shot accuracy, as well as goal conversion %, Lukaku has demonstrated exactly why he is the perfect striker and will aim to help Conte convert many opportunities this season. It is arguably far more important for a striker to have a high quality of shot rather than quantity, as it can help make the difference in tight situations.

Interestingly, Lukaku also had a greater percentage of aerial duels and dribbles won last season than Costa did in the 16/17 campaign; especially impressive given the fact that United slumped to that 6th place finish whilst Chelsea won the league in the chosen season.

However, also like with Icardi, Costa’s creation of chances and passing excels that of Lukaku. Although, as Costa featured within Conte’s 3-5-2 this season, it could be that having a strike partner was responsible for these numbers and therefore the same could be reflected within Lukaku this season.

Conclusion

Romelu Lukaku is an expensive gamble for Inter to take. Costing 80 million euros, he is therefore one of the most pricey transfer this summer and also one of the most costly strikers of all time. However, once again a big club has chosen to take this expensive risk on the Belgian and not without good cause.

He is undoubtedly a talented finisher of the ball and his prolificacy in front of goal is almost worth the value alone. He may find that the slower pace and more technical nature of Serie A suits him well and playing under a coach who truly values his input is also likely to see him thrive.

On face value, Conte, Lukaku and Inter look like a 3-way marriage made in heaven; it is now down to them to prove it in the upcoming campaign.

You can follow me on Twitter here, where I post all my analysis first and foremost and where you can find many other analysis I have created but are yet to convert to a post – and, if you wish to support me, you can donate just £3, the cost of a price of a cup of coffee, to help me afford all the software I use to produce these charts.

Rafael Leao – Statistical Analysis and Insight

Rafael Leao - Source - AC Milan
Rafael Leao – Source – AC Milan

Last week, Milan completed the signing of Portuguese forward Rafael Leao; bringing the 20-year-old to Italy from Ligue 1 side Lille in a deal worth a reported €30m.

With Patrick Cutrone heading to Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers and the Rossoneri‘s continued attempts to offload Portuguese forward Andre Silva, Leao could become a truly vital part of the Milan machine for years to come.

But what can the forward bring to the Serie A club? I have put together some statistical analysis, as well as some player comparisons, to give a comprehensive look into the new Rossoneri front-man.

What kind of player is Leao?

Rafael Leao has a diverse skill-set, one which makes him a valuable and versatile asset for a number of offensive roles. Although primarily a striker, the Portuguese forward can play as a second-striker, as well as on the left-wing. Although he is unlikely to feature in either of these positions for Marco Giampaolo at Milan initially, he will be able to star as a valuable partner to Krzysztof Piatek in the new head coach’s front two.

As you can see, Leao possesses some key statistical strengths for a striker. With a goal conversion percentage of 23.3%, Leao is a clinical forward who, with 2.27 attempts on goal per 90 minutes, picks and chooses his goal-scoring chances; instead of firing many attempts in with a poor accuracy rate.

With a shot accuracy of 61.8%, Leao further demonstrates his clinical nature; an important attribute for a forward who will likely receive less chances each game than Piatek. By this, Leao could be the perfect partner for the Polish striker in Giampaolo’s 4-3-1-2; which is only supported more by his influence in the build-up phase.

Last season, for Lille, Leao registered an xA p/90 of around 0.13, higher than over half of the forwards in Serie A in the 18/19 campaign. Leao’s pass accuracy, although perhaps worrying on face value, is indicative of his preference to attempt riskier passes that have a greater pay-off to them.

Despite attempting few dribbles per 90 minutes, Leao does succeed in over half of those and holds a similar status in regards to his aerial ability. In all, Leao is a quality all-round forward who, at aged 20, possesses the current skill to fight for a place in Giampaolo’s first XI, whilst with plenty of time to develop, learn and grow under the new coach; especially given Giampaolo’s success with developing young players in the past.

How does Leao compare with others?

Rafael Leao has been signed to replace Italian forward Patrick Cutrone, who left Milan to sign for Premier League side Wolves this summer. As Cutrone embarks on a new journey, there have been some questions on whether or not this was a good move. However, Cutrone’s 18/19 campaign suggests that the Rossoneri have made the right decision; the Italian struggling in all fields.

As you can see from the radar chart comparison, Cutrone really struggled to make an impact last season. Compared to other Serie A strikers last season, Cutrone ranked within the bottom 10% for his aerial success, dribble success and attempted shots. Furthermore, he ranked within the lowest 20% for goal conversion % and xG.

As you can see by the chart, despite Leao’s statistics being registered in Ligue 1, he far exceeds the Italian in a range of attributes; with stronger strengths and a greater consistency amongst the various categories. Leao should prove to bolster Milan’s front line and, as aforementioned, be the perfect foil to Piatek in the strikeforce.

The second comparison worth noting is between Leao and Gregoire Defrel; who played the same role for Giampaolo last season that the Portuguese striker will for the coach this campaign. Defrel was the Leao to Giampaolo’s previous Piatek, Fabio Quagliarella. Quagliarella finished the Serie A season as the top scorer and this was, in part, down to the support he received from the rest of the team.

As you can see, the two share some similar strengths; especially when compared with the overlay of Leao and Cutrone’s charts. Although Defrel is more successful with his dribbling, as well as attempting more per 90 minutes, Leao is stronger in the air, as well as registering more attempts on goal and receiving a higher expected goals statistic.

Conclusion

As I mentioned in the thread on my Twitter, Leao is yet another indicator of the smart scouting and recruitment employed by AC Milan this summer. Instead of aiming for big name signings that would cost upwards of 50 million euros each, the Rossoneri have instead targeted those who will be valuable building blocks for the future, as well as possessing the talent, quality and traits to serve as important for the present.

Leao may not be the most well known player, or the most experienced but was deservedly one of the most coveted players this summer; teams from across Europe competing for his signature. He will likely take time to adapt but, in the years to come, could become a vital part of this new Milan era.

You can follow me on Twitter here, where I post all my analysis first and foremost and where you can find many other analysis I have created but are yet to convert to a post – and, if you wish to support me, you can donate just £3, the cost of a price of a cup of coffee, to help me afford all the software I use to produce these charts.