Romelu Lukaku hit the ball less often than ANYONE at Anfield – including both goalkeepers – while Chelsea held onto Liverpool… his long-awaited duel with Virgil van Dijk just didn’t materialize
- Romelu Lukaku hit the ball 18 times in Chelsea’s draw against Liverpool
- The 28-year-old striker has scored five goals in 18 games against the Reds
- Lukaku has now not scored in his last six games against Virgil van Dijk
- Chelsea were reduced to ten men after Reece James was sent off in the first half
As this match neared its final half hour, one stat told multiple stories in one. In 60 minutes at Anfield, Romelu Lukaku made just 18 touches.
That was less than any other starter. Less even than both keepers. So much for the titanic battle of the striker with Virgil van Dijk.
What had been billed as the game that could somehow topple this early staging post instead became another patch of rubble, left by the chaos of stoppage time in the first half.
Romelu Lukaku struggled to impress during Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Liverpool
Lukaku’s battle against Virgil van Dijk (right) fell short of the pre-match build
That is of course exactly what Liverpool would have wanted. A quiet day is rarely a bad day for a defender. But that’s also exactly what can happen when a game depends on one decision. And Reece James’ red card made Lukaku’s difficult task almost impossible. This was meeting No. 18 with Liverpool for the striker.
The previous 17 include five goals in nearly a decade. During that time he had also faced Van Dijk five times. Neither of those matches resulted in a goal for the Belgian, although none of those previous 386 minutes had been searched with this fine comb.
But now no striker has cost more in transfer fees. Now Lukaku seems like the perfect focal point on Tuchel’s side. And Pablo Mari, Arsenal defender turned human stress ball, can attest to the joy of being thrown, dragged and twisted by Chelsea’s number 9 for 90 minutes. Van Dijk would never offer such a charity.
Thomas Tuchel’s squad was reduced to 10 men after Reece James was sent off in the first half
But this was his toughest test since returning from injury. And the Kop knew – that’s why every sniff of impact elicited such a fierce response. The first, of a long ball after three minutes, saw Van Dijk simply lean against Lukaku and win a header.
That didn’t dampen the deafening roar of approval. But after that, when this game came to a boil, the protagonists were muscular from the center of the stage.
By halftime, the subplot had become an afterthought. In fact, it was telling that this battle at least proved most enticing when Van Dijk deliberately refused contact. As he did in the 13th minute, when Lukaku received the ball and turned towards goal.
Van Dijk sat down next to the attacker, forced Lukaku to pass and the opportunity was ignored. Watch out, Pablo.
Blues midfielder Mason Mount ignored a good chance after being fed by Lukaku
Lukaku got the odd blow – he beat Van Dijk at the corner flag – but his opening visor was well blocked by the Dutchman. No wonder Chelsea increasingly tried to isolate him against Joel Matip.
No wonder Anfield was scared when Matip was sucked into a challenge and turned easily. However, as Lukaku drove towards goal, Van Dijk again invited him into space. Lukaku fed Mount, who dragged his bet wide.
And then everything changed with James’ red. It forced Tuchel into a transformation and left Lukaku more and more stranded in no man’s land. Crumbs of opportunity came late: Lukaku saw a volley blocked from close range by Matip before his through ball put Kovacic on target. But that chance was begging and so it also ended in a draw.
LUKAKU VS VAN DIJK – THE IMPORTANT MOMENTS
3 minutes – Long ball up towards Lukaku along the Chelsea right. Van Dijk leans forward and wins the opening battle to great cheers
13 minutes – Lukaku receives the ball into space in the Liverpool half. Van Dijk lets it run and invites the number 9. Lukaku is forced to pass and forfeits the opportunity.
18 minutes – Van Dijk is muscled off the ball by his own corner flag from Lukaku. Liverpool demand a foul which is not given and Lukaku sends a dangerously low cross into the area which is cleared
34 minutes – A square ball from Mason Mount reaches Lukaku at the penalty spot. Van Dijk closes it immediately and the attacker’s first shot is deflected harmlessly to Alisson
35 minutes – Joel Matip tries to nick the ball for Lukaku halfway through. The attacker turns the defender and drives towards the goal. Van Dijk invites him to feed Mount, whose shot is dragged past.
64 minutes – Lukaku finds a meter of space in the penalty area and hits Marcos Alonso’s header over the goal. But Matip is there to block his attempt at close range