This should have been a season for Inter fans to enjoy, on the back of a title triumph and with European football returning to some semblance of normality.

Instead, they have lost coach Antonio Conte, top scorer Romelu Lukaku and standout wing-back Achraf Hakimi. Talk of a Tottenham move for Lautaro Martinez – seemingly linked to Harry Kane's future – has not been ruled out entirely.

It leaves the reigning Serie A champions picking up the pieces, with the club's dire financial situation dampening hopes of a successful title defence.

Although there have also been new arrivals, Simone Inzaghi and a 35-year-old Edin Dzeko clearly are not in the same class as Conte and Lukaku.

Inter will be slightly different this season and it is highly likely they will be slightly worse for it.

Downgrade to Dzeko

In Lukaku, Inter have sold a player in his prime coming off his best campaign to date. In Dzeko, the Nerazzurri have brought in a veteran whose Serie A career just plunged to new depths.

Lukaku netted 24 times en route to Inter's Scudetto, while Dzeko's final year with Roma brought only seven league goals.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina international did play a mere 1,825 minutes, but it was his poor form while on the pitch that saw him limited to 20 starts despite featuring in 31 matchday squads.

Dzeko's shot conversion rate of 10 per cent was higher than in two of his seasons in the capital and only margainally lower than 2017-18's 10.5 per cent when he scored 16 times. The decreasing frequency of his attempts was an issue, managing just 3.5 shots per 90 minutes, a trough to contrast to the 2016-17 peak of 5.3.

Inter's new forward fell some way short of his expected goals (xG) total of 13.3 – a failing only partially explained by the expertise of opposition goalkeepers, who prevented 3.6 Dzeko goals according to expected goals on target (xGOT) data, which analyses the quality of the shot rather than the quality of the chance.

Lukaku, on the other hand, outstripped his xG figure of 23.8, even if his attempts were only worth 22.9 xGOT.

It is not only as a scorer that Dzeko slips below Lukaku's standards either. Chelsea's latest record buy was a creative force last term, providing 11 assists. Dzeko had three.

 

Indeed, Lukaku crafted a team-high 52 chances – or 9.4 per cent of Inter's 552 shots across the campaign – while Dzeko laid on 29 (5.3 per cent of Roma's attempts). Dzeko was more involved in build-up play than Lukaku, averaging 49.7 open play sequences per 90 to his predecessor's 44.4, but he could not match Lukaku in terms of passing accuracy (68.8 per cent), passing accuracy in the opposition half (64.8) or passing accuracy in the final third (58.5).

Unsurprisingly, the former Giallorossi favourite also cannot play at the same pace as Lukaku. Dzeko was involved in only six fast breaks to Lukaku's league-leading 17, although he did score twice from such situations. Roma were second in the league in this regard – behind Inter.

But even if the Nerazzurri do slow slightly with Dzeko in the side, his work in moving the ball up the field is still comparable to Lukaku's. He had more carries (7.9) and progressive carries (4.5) than Lukaku last term, while operating in the same ballpark for carry distance (92.6 metres), attempted dribbles (2.9) and completed dribbles (1.3) – all numbers per 90.

The percentage of his touches Dzeko took in the opposition box (17.3) tallied closely (18.3 per cent for Lukaku), too, with the previously prolific attacker's game peculiarly now suited to work away from goal.

An aerial force

As part of his link-up play, Dzeko offers a clear focal point. His 60.4 per cent success rate in aerial duels ranked fourth among Serie A forwards with 100 or more such tussles. Lukaku won only 42.9 per cent in a category led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic (65.7 per cent). Dzeko's 52 flick-ons also put him fourth.

But Dzeko's heading ability does also give Inter a greater threat inside the penalty area. The striker was joint-third for headed attempts (20, excluding blocks), with his 1.0 per 90 double Lukaku's 0.5. As with his feet, Dzeko was wasteful in this regard, scoring only one header while new Inter colleague Martinez nodded in four goals, but a greater sample size shows the danger he can pose. Since his 2015 Serie A debut, Dzeko leads the way for headed attempts (203, excluding blocks) and his 16 goals – making up 18.8 per cent of his total of 85 – are tied for third.

Dzeko therefore looks a good fit in an Inter side who last season topped the charts in succeeding with 24.6 per cent of their open play crosses, leading to a joint-high 92 headed shots and 14 headed goals.

Whether that crossing quality is still at the club is another matter.

Inter's wings clipped

Only nine defenders in Serie A last term attempted 100 crosses, but Hakimi, marauding up the right, was one of them. Within that select group, his crossing accuracy of 23.9 per cent ranked third – just ahead of Leonardo Spinazzola, another exciting wing-back and Dzeko's former Roma team-mate (23.5 per cent).

Hakimi's departure for Paris Saint-Germain robs Inter of that quality and the 36 chances he created. There is pressure on Denzel Dumfries, a €12.5million recruit, to fill that void. He created 41 chances in the Eredivisie last season, yet only five of his 50 crosses were successful.

That ability to deliver from wide positions is merely one of Hakimi's array of attributes, too, with the €60m man carrying the ball 22.7 metres further per 90 than Dumfries while also contributing a goal or assist every 178.1 minutes, compared to the Netherlands international's 308.5 minutes.

 

Inter should at least have increased creativity from midfield, where free signing Hakan Calhanoglu offers an upgrade on the recuperating Christian Eriksen. Calhanoglu, playing for rivals Milan, had league highs in chances created (98) and chances created from set-pieces (50) in 2020-21. Milan led Serie A in goals from set-pieces (16, excluding penalties), but Inter ranked joint-fourth (16) and will surely now improve.

Trying to run it back

If mixed results are anticipated from direct replacements for Lukaku, Hakimi and Eriksen, those moves at least indicate some unlikely joined-up thinking in spite of the chaotic nature of this off-season. Inzaghi's appointment also suggests Inter plan to change little from last season, even with the numerous notable departures.

Like Conte and Inter, Inzaghi's Lazio consistently lined up with a 3-5-2 formation in 2020-21, with their approaches also not dissimilar.

Lazio's press was a little more aggressive, allowing 11.6 passes per defensive action to Inter's 12.8 and also engaging in more pressed sequences (543) despite having slightly more possession (52.9 per cent) than Inter (52.0 per cent). Lazio also scored eight goals from high turnovers.

However, between the replacement of a speedy Lukaku with a slower Dzeko and Inter's pre-existing preference for build-up attacks (119) over direct attacks (80), Inzaghi's playing style might have to be a little more patient this term, even if the new number nine's physical presence will give them an outlet.

These are minor tweaks, though, that should mean Inzaghi can adapt to Inter or Inter to Inzaghi.

Defending champions have rarely had it so tough when preparing for a new campaign, but Inter have done all they can to ensure a new-look side can continue to find success.

Romelu Lukaku is heeding the advice of Chelsea great Didier Drogba after sealing his dream return to Stamford Bridge.

Lukaku re-signed for Chelsea last week, joining the European Champions from Inter in a reported £97.5million (€115m) deal.

He initially joined Chelsea in 2011, but left for Everton in 2014 after having successive loan spells away from west London. Lukaku went on to play for Manchester United before spending two years in Italy with Inter, helped them clinch the Serie A title last season.

The Belgium star has made no secret of his admiration for Drogba, putting the former Ivory Coast forward down as one of his footballing heroes.

Lukaku, who confirmed he will be wearing the number nine shirt this season, enjoys a strong bond with his one-time team-mate, and revealed he has spoken to Drogba since his move back to Chelsea went through.

"He kept it really simple," Lukaku said hen asked what advice Drogba had given him.

"He's really happy with the improvements I've made in the last couple of seasons but he's always saying there's more work to be done.

"I think that's the right mindset, if you want to achieve the maximum as a player it's about improving week in, week out.

"The last two years has been really good for myself at club level, international level. Now I get the chance to join a team that's very hungry, very ambitious and I can't wait to help them and add something new to the playing style.

"It's a good feeling, the guys are very hungry, they want to keep winning. There is a good intensity, the coach is very clear with his ideas, everybody wants to work hard and keep improving and most importantly win.

"Those things really meet my ambitions. We have to improve ourselves on the pitch and this is what I like about this team."

Lukaku has been training with his team-mates this week, and confirmed he is available for Sunday's London derby against Arsenal, should Thomas Tuchel wish to use him.

"Yes, I've been training, I've done a whole pre-season. I'll try to get to know my team-mates better and I'm ready if the manager wants to use me," he added.

"The next couple of weeks is very important to communicate with all the players. We have a certain playing style here but for me it's not too difficult to adapt because with the Belgium national team we have the same system, so that's already a good thing."

The 28-year-old had already outlined how he believes he can help form part of a leadership group in Chelsea's squad, and explained how he has matured as a player during his stint in Milan.

"Maturity, maturity has been important. I've learned much more about myself, setting higher standards of myself," Lukaku said.

"As a player, it's becoming more complete because the game in Italy is much different, it's much tighter, the spaces, more clinical and tactical which has helped me a lot. The English game is different but for me it's nothing new. So I come back here, adapt to my team-mates and whatever game plan that the coach has, I can adapt myself and help the team."

Lukaku returns to England at a time when, for the first time since March 2020, capacity crowds are allowed back into stadiums.

However, with coronavirus restrictions eased, there is also a push for players to ensure they are fully vaccinated. While the Premier League have not made vaccinations mandatory, there is concern over players refusing to take up the offer.

Asked if he had received the vaccinations, Lukaku said: "I'm double vaccinated. For me it's different because I have a few family members that are high risk.

"As a player it is up to yourself. The only thing we can say is be careful when you are around the general population, because you have a lot of responsibilities. For me I did it because my family has high-risk members, that's why I did it."

Michy Batshuayi has extended his Chelsea contract until 2023 and joined Besiktas on loan for the 2021-22 campaign.

Batshuayi, who joined the Blues in 2016, has spent much of his time at Chelsea out on loan.

He thrived with Borussia Dortmund in 2018, though struggled at Valencia the following season, switching to Crystal Palace on a temporary basis for the back half of 2018-19.

The Belgium forward was a target for Palace in the following transfer window, but remained at Chelsea. He made 24 appearances, though few of them were starts, scoring seven goals.

Batshuayi did return to Selhurst Park last season, though scored just two goals from 18 Premier League appearances for the Eagles.

The 27-year-old had entered the final year of his Chelsea deal, but that has now been renewed, with an immediate season-long loan to Turkish champions Besiktas confirmed on Wednesday.

"Very very happy to join Besiktas," Batshuayi, who received a huge welcome when he landed in Istanbul, tweeted.

"An incredible opportunity for me and I'm already looking to play. Thank you to all the fans for the crazy welcome at Istanbul. See you at the stadium very soon."

Batshuayi slipped further down the pecking order at Chelsea upon the arrival of his compatriot Romelu Lukaku, who re-joined the European Champions in a reported £97.5million (€115m) deal from Serie A champions Inter last week.

He is the third centre-forward to leave the club this transfer window, with Chelsea having sold Olivier Giroud to Milan, while Tammy Abraham was unveiled as a Roma player on Tuesday.

Thomas Tuchel still has plenty of high-quality attacking options at his disposal, with Lukaku spearheading a forward line that also includes Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic, with support provided from midfielders Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Romelu Lukaku's return to Chelsea has bolstered team-mate Marcos Alonso's optimism for the season ahead.

The Belgium forward moved back to Stamford Bridge from Inter for a reported £97.5million (€115m) fee, having proven prolific in Italy.

Lukaku led Inter to their first Serie A title in a decade last season, netting 24 league goals.

Having left the Blues in 2014, Lukaku rejoins a club who won the Champions League under Thomas Tuchel last term and Alonso is thrilled to have the 28-year-old on board.

"I'm looking forward to playing with him," the Spaniard told Chelsea's official website.

"He's going to be a great help for us. He's a great player, it's good to have him back and I'm looking forward to start training with him."

Alonso, who scored the opening goal in Saturday's curtain-raising 3-0 Premier League victory over Crystal Palace, was also delighted to have fans back at Stamford Bridge.

He is now hoping the team can build on last season's success with another strong campaign on all fronts.

"We all feel it. It's a massive difference. We were all looking forward to it and it's great to have the fans back," he said.

"I was very happy for that goal. It's been a tough pre-season as usual, so I'm very happy to start the season like that. I'm looking forward to the next one.

"We need to leave our Champions League victory for now and focus on the new season. There are a lot of things to play for. We need to go again like the end of last season, 100 per cent, and step by step we will get there."

Next up in Sunday's trip to London rivals Arsenal, where Lukaku will be in line to make his second debut for the club.

Record signing Romelu Lukaku says he has returned to Chelsea as a more “complete” player.

Chelsea spent a reported £97.5million to re-sign the striker, who previously joined as an 18-year-old from Anderlecht in 2011, from Inter.

Lukaku enjoyed spells with West Brom, Everton and Manchester United before impressing at Inter with 24 goals in Serie A last term to secure their first title in 11 years.

The 28-year-old spent two seasons in Serie A, notching 64 goals across all competitions as he quickly became Antonio Conte's main man in attack.

"I just feel more complete," Lukaku told the club's official website on Monday when asked to compare the difference between his two arrivals at Stamford Bridge.

"I’ve tried to master all the facets that a striker needs and I just want to keep improving on the small details all the time and keep improving on my strengths as well.

"It’s not like I’m a new player coming in and not quite knowing what to expect. I know the league, I’ve scored a fair amount of goals here but the past is the past and now we have to look forward.

"I’m a new version of that player from before. I’ve evolved and the team that I’m joining is a very strong team so now we just have to prove it on the pitch by challenging for the Premier League."

While Chelsea were without Lukaku on Saturday, but cruised to a 3-0 win in their Premier League opener against Crystal Palace.

Timo Werner touched the ball just 29 times in 90 minutes – the fewest of any Chelsea outfield starter – but Thomas Tuchel admitted said the game Lukaku's arrival is good news for the former RB Leipzig man.

From Tuchel's appointment until the end of last term, the Blues only netted 38 goals across all competitions, a figure hampered by Werner converting just 7.59 per cent of his 79 top-flight attempts, while also finishing only five of his 23 'big' chances..

Lukaku, in comparison, ranks fourth for shot conversion in Europe's top five leagues since joining Inter in August 2019, scoring 24.2 per cent of chances that have come his way.

Lukaku could feature with Werner for the trip to Arsenal on Sunday and the Belgium international spoke of his excitement over working with Tuchel.

"The conversation was really clear from him [Tuchel], that he wants me to be a presence and a leader in the team," Lukaku continued. "I have to just use all my abilities to make sure I can help the team as much as possible.

"I’m a leader but I’m also more of a gel person, making sure that everybody feels comfortable and confident. That’s the way I lead.

"I like the system that we play and I’m very flexible. I can play as a two or by myself and I’m used to the system because it’s what we play with the Belgian national team so I don’t need much time to adapt.

"It’s just knowing the strengths of my team-mates in important positions and knowing what we do off the ball, then I can do the rest."

Romelu Lukaku has penned an emotional farewell letter to Inter supporters following his return to Chelsea.

Lukaku re-signed for Chelsea – the club he left in 2014 – on Thursday, joining the European Champions on a five-year deal for a reported fee of £97.5million (€115m).

The 28-year-old scored 24 goals in 2020-21 as he spearheaded Antonio Conte's attack, leading Inter to their first Serie A title in 11 years.

Lukaku spent two seasons in Serie A and swiftly became a fan favourite in San Siro, netting 64 goals across all competitions. 

On Sunday, Lukaku said goodbye to Inter, posting a statement to his official Twitter account.

"Thank you for loving me as one of your own. Thank you for making me and my family feel at home in Milano," Lukaku wrote.

"Thank you for the unconditional support and love on a daily basis. Thank you for motivating me even more after the first season.

"When I came to Inter, I immediately felt that I would do well for this club. The love and reception I first received at Malpensa airport was the start of a beautiful story.

"I made it my mission to never let you down every time I wore the Inter shirt. I gave 100 per cent in every training session and every game so that I could make you proud.

"Our first season ended in the toughest possible way, but you guys gave me the strength to continue to keep pushing and we did as a team. That's why we became champions together."

He also revealed his reasons for leaving, stating he felt a move back to Chelsea was an opportunity that he could not refuse.

"I hope you guys understand my decision to move on to Chelsea. It's the chance of a lifetime for me and I think at this time of my career it is a chance that I always dreamed of," the statement continued.

"One thing is for sure and that is I will always remain an Interista, because without you I wouldn’t be the player or man I am today. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Lukaku represents the second big sale of the transfer window by Inter, who also saw Achraf Hakimi depart for Paris Saint-Germain.

The Italian champions needed to ease financial difficulties that were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, with player sales required. Lautaro Martinez is also a reported target for Tottenham, though a move for the Argentina international may depend on the future of Harry Kane.

Inter moved to replace Lukaku by signing Edin Dzeko from Roma, while right-back Denzel Dumfries – who impressed for the Netherlands at Euro 2020 – has also joined the Nerazzurri. 

Meanwhile, with Lukaku on board, Chelsea have reportedly agreed to sell Tammy Abraham to Roma, with the England international travelling to Italy on Sunday to complete the transfer said to be worth up to €45m (£38.3m).

Romelu Lukaku's arrival at Chelsea is good news for Timo Werner and Chelsea's other attacking players, according to head coach Thomas Tuchel.

Chelsea spent a reported club-record fee of £97.5million (€115m) to re-sign Lukaku from Inter this week, adding to Tuchel's options in the final third.

The 28-year-old was not included in the squad for Saturday's Premier League opener, with Werner instead leading the line for Chelsea.

Despite the Blues easing to a routine 3-0 win against Crystal Palace, it was a largely frustrating day for Werner as he managed only one attempt at Stamford Bridge.

Former RB Leipzig man Werner also had just 29 touches of the ball across his 90 minutes on the field, which was the fewest of any outfield Chelsea starter.

Lukaku's arrival has only increased the competition for places up top this term, but Tuchel can see the Belgian getting more out of Werner this season.

"I think the arrival of Romelu will help Timo a lot," Tuchel told Sky Sports. "He takes responsibility and will take some off Timo, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic.

"It gives us more variations. We can play with two strikers or go with a front three. The arrival of Romelu is good news for Timo."

Asked if Lukaku will be ready to start next week's trip to Arsenal, Tuchel added: "He escapes isolation on Monday, has a full week to prepare and should be on the pitch."

Saturday's victory at Stamford Bridge was Chelsea's eighth in a row against Palace, sealed thanks to goals from Marcos Alonso, Pulisic and Trevoh Chalobah.

Academy product Chalobah was making his first Premier League start for the Blues, having also featured from the beginning in Wednesday's Super Cup win over Villarreal.

At 22 years and 40 days, he is the second youngest Chelsea player to score on his debut in the competition after Paul Hughes (20y 274d) versus Derby County in 1997. 

And Tuchel believes the instant impact made by Chalobah, the brother of Chelsea title winner Nathaniel, proves there is a route to the first team for up-and-coming players.

"He produced two fantastic performances and played almost every minute in pre-season," Tuchel said. "He is a humble guy from the academy and was so, so good today.

"He plays with so much confidence and has so many good behaviours on the pitch. It was a pretty perfect afternoon for him. 

"You saw how they celebrated with him and these are the stories we love about football.

"In this game, in an exciting league with players from abroad, there is still place for homegrown talent at our club and other big clubs."

Chalobah, who spent the past three seasons out on loan, fired past Vicente Guaita with a long-range shot to round off the scoring for Chelsea in front of their returning fans.

The youngster has been with Chelsea since the age of eight and is glad to have taken full advantage of his opportunity to impress under Tuchel.

"It is a dream for a boy like me being here and to play for my home club is unreal," Chalobah added. "As I was getting closer to the goal I thought I might as well shoot.

"I didn't know the ball went in. I didn't know what to do. I was over the moon.

"I have been training with the team in pre-season and the manager said I was playing and I was ready.

"I was surprised by the Super Cup game too and the work has paid off. I have taken the opportunity with both hands."

Inter boss Simone Inzaghi and CEO Giuseppe Marotta did everything in their power to prevent Romelu Lukaku from rejoining Chelsea, according to the striker's agent.

Lukaku completed his return to Stamford Bridge on Thursday for a reported club-record fee of £97.5million (€115m), seven years after sealing a permanent move from the Blues to Everton.

The Belgium international has spent the previous two seasons with Inter and fired the Nerazzurri to their first title in more than a decade in 2020-21, scoring 24 goals in the Italian top flight.

He has been criticised by Inter fans for moving on, with accusations of chasing a bigger salary, but Federico Pastorello, who represents Lukaku, responded to those claims in a long statement posted via social media on Friday.

"The narrative – that Lukaku's transfer was 'engineered' and 'forced' just to pander to financial interests – is leading everyone absolutely astray," Pastorello wrote.

"Lukaku has never publicly expressed any unease or discontent about his experience at Inter, his contractual situation or the well-known events of the club.

"The interest of Chelsea really touched Romelu's soul from the very first moment, because that club means to him something unique and special.

"In recent days I have seen a video from 2009 in which the 16-year-old visited the Stamford Bridge stadium with his school and swore that one day he would play on that pitch. 

"I recommend everyone to watch it carefully: it's impressive how clearly a 16-year-old boy was already drawing his future.

"He wanted to wear that shirt, he succeeded when he was only 18 and unfortunately he left before he could make his mark and win something important.

"The challenge remained like a bug in his heart and mind for all these years. When, almost unexpectedly, the opportunity to try again came up – at the age of 28 after two seasons as a main player with Inter – he almost didn't believe it. 

"It was a chance to come full circle and being the exemplary professional that he is, he decided it was time to accept that challenge again.

"Believe it or not, the supporters' affection and the special bond with the city of Milan made him think about it for a long time. But then, once he made his decision, he carried on with conviction and firmness."

Lukaku is the second big-name player from last season's title-winning squad to move on, following Achraf Hakimi heading to Paris Saint-Germain, while Lautaro Martinez continues to be linked with an exit.

Inter's financial struggles have been well documented, with former head coach Antonio Conte also moving on during the close season, but not everyone at the club wanted to cash in on Lukaku.

"With regards to Inter, I can guarantee that the CEO Giuseppe Marotta, the sporting director Piero Ausilio and coach Simone Inzaghi did everything in their power to avoid this," Pastorello said.

"But there are circumstances that go beyond their decision-making range and depend on the instructions of the owners."

Lukaku scored 64 goals in his two years at San Siro and is the only player across the past 15 seasons to record 20 or more goals and reach 10 assists in a single Serie A campaign.

As well as ending Inter's long wait for Scudetto glory, he also scored seven goals in six games in their run to the Europa League final in 2019-20.

Pastorello added: "I conclude my thought with a reflection on that day two years ago when Romelu Lukaku signed for Inter. 

"At that time many of those who today insult me and threaten me, thanked me wholeheartedly for bringing him to Milan.

"If they had told you: 'Romelu, after scoring more than 60 goals in two seasons, bringing the club back to the top with his team-mates, playing in the Europa League final and winning the Italian league title that has been missing since 2010, being named MVP of the Europa League and Serie A, will leave the Nerazzurri bringing into the club finances a record sum for the Italian football market', what would you have done?"

Thomas Tuchel believes Romelu Lukaku is a "perfect" fit at Chelsea but is surprised his signing has prompted talk of the European champions being title favourites.

Only champions Manchester City (48) collected more Premier League points than Chelsea (38) following Tuchel's appointment last season, while the Blues beat Pep Guardiola's men in the Champions League final.

They have since added Lukaku, too, encouraging optimism Tuchel's side could lead the way this year.

But the coach was eager to point out Chelsea only finished fourth last term, slipping below Liverpool as they lost two of their final three games – more than in their prior 16 league games under Tuchel.

Therefore, Tuchel suggests Chelsea have ground to make up, explaining ahead of Saturday's game against Crystal Palace: "It surprises me.

"Everybody saw we came fourth. When you come fourth, you are not favourite the next season.

"We have gaps to close. We let Liverpool pass us, we have gaps to close to Manchester City. I don't see why they should be any worse than last season."

Indeed, the Blues boss does not believe Lukaku's club-record signing from Inter puts them under any more pressure than their rivals, who have also splashed out.

"Man City is doing the same, improving, so are Man United," Tuchel said. "I don't see us as the only ones trying to close the gap by bringing in players. This will not be enough.

"Bringing quality, a mentality and personality, is always welcome. I don't feel that it increases the pressure on me. It makes life more exciting as a coach."

Chelsea will be without Hakim Ziyech – although his shoulder injury will not require surgery – and also have an "issue" with N'Golo Kante to deal with against Palace, where they will aim to avoid becoming the first Champions League winners to lose their first league game of the following campaign since Bayern Munich in 2001-02.

Despite talking down Chelsea's chances, Tuchel hopes they will set the tone for a title tilt on the opening day.

"I hope we play with this mentality – we want to hunt them down and not from January on but from Saturday on," he said.

"This is the mentality with which we approach this season. We see ourselves as hunters and challengers to the three teams who were in front of us."

Returning star Lukaku will certainly help in that regard, having led Inter to the Serie A title last season with 24 goals.

"We're very happy to have Romelu back in the club," Tuchel said. "In terms of personality, speed, character, he will be an excellent addition for us.

"He has the power, the physique, the personality to help us and have a huge impact. At the same time, he is a humble guy, a team player who cares about Chelsea. We all have the feeling that he's worth it.

"It was very important to us that it was his desire to rejoin Chelsea and finish his story at Chelsea the way he wanted to.

"We have a strong group, defined with a strong bond and with a certain attitude to help each other out. We think that Romelu, coming through here and having always Chelsea in his heart, is the perfect addition to our group."

Chelsea, who also have Tammy Abraham available despite links to Roma, have won their past seven league meetings with Palace.

Romelu Lukaku has returned to Chelsea.

Seven years after leaving Stamford Bridge, the Belgium forward has become one of Europe's leading strikers, and the Blues have now paid a club-record fee – believed to be £97.5million (€115m) – to secure his signature.

Lukaku leaves Inter having led them to their first Serie A title in more than a decade, scoring 24 goals for the Nerazzurri in Serie A last term.

The 28-year-old brings strength, pace and supreme finishing to Thomas Tuchel's side – arguably the one area of Chelsea's squad that was lacking last term, albeit they still went on to win the Champions League.

Chelsea are not shy of attacking talent, with Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech having all arrived in 2020, while Mason Mount thrived under both Frank Lampard and Tuchel.

With Lukaku on board, Stats Perform assesses how Chelsea might line up in 2021-22.

 

3-4-3: Edouard Mendy; Thiago Silva, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger; Reece James, N'Golo Kante, Jorginho, Ben Chilwell; Kai Havertz, Romelu Lukaku, Mason Mount.

Tuchel implemented a back three upon his arrival in January, and the formation switch helped turn Chelsea's fortunes around. This potential XI is based on the team Chelsea started in the Champions League final against Manchester City in May, albeit with Andreas Christensen – who enjoyed a brilliant Euro 2020 with Denmark and ended the season strongly for the Blues – in for Cesar Azpilicueta.

Lukaku could act as an out-and-out replacement for Werner, whose finishing all too often let him down last season. The Germany forward provided eight assists and netted six league goals, but from 79 attempts, giving him a shot conversion rate of just 7.59 per cent, while he only netted five of the 23 big chances that came his way in his maiden Premier League campaign. Lukaku, on the other hand, converted 25 per cent of his 96 shots in Serie A, scored 20 big chances from 39 and added a further 11 assists.

As demonstrated in the Super Cup against Villarreal on Wednesday, Chelsea need a focal point for their attack, and they now have just that.

3-5-2: Edouard Mendy; Thiago Silva, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger; Callum Hudson-Odoi, N'Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mason Mount, Ben Chilwell; Romelu Lukaku, Timo Werner.

Based on the system in which Lukaku excelled at Inter under Antonio Conte, the former Everton and Manchester United star could easily be used in tandem with Werner in a front two – and it could be to great effect for Chelsea, should he replicate his partnership with Lautaro Martinez, who scored 17 Serie A goals in 2020-21.

This formation would allow Jorginho to sit in front of the defence and distribute the ball forward – perhaps in the same mould as Inter's Marcelo Brozovic – while Mount can drop in to receive and drive forward with the ball. The wing-backs provide width, with Callum Hudson-Odoi potentially coming in to offer another attacking threat to balance out the extra man in midfield.

4-3-3: Edouard Mendy; Reece James, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger, Ben Chilwell; N'Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mason Mount; Hakim Ziyech, Romelu Lukaku, Christian Pulisic.

Another system which has been utilised by Tuchel in the past is the 4-3-3, which he often employed during his time at Paris Saint-Germain. The centre-backs are interchangeable – such is the depth of quality in that area for Chelsea – while James and Ben Chilwell would be the offensive full-back choices, with Azpilicueta certainly another option.

In midfield, Jorginho sits with N'Golo Kante given licence to hassle the opposition, freeing up Mount to be the creative fulcrum. In the forward line, Ziyech, who scored the opener against Villarreal before going off with a shoulder injury, excelled in a role off the right in his time at Ajax and his wonderous left foot can be lethal from wide positions, whether to cross or shoot. On the other flank, Christian Pulisic or Werner would provide the pace and tenacity to link up with Lukaku, who can either hold up the play or stretch the defence.

4-2-3-1: Edouard Mendy; Reece James, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger, Ben Chilwell; N'Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic; Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz, Mason Mount; Romelu Lukaku.

With so many options at his disposal, Tuchel is sure to chop and change. This formation would see Mateo Kovacic drop in alongside Kante, while Pulisic switches over to the right to make way for Havertz, who would occupy the number 10 position.

Mount has established himself as a pivotal figure, and would have the freedom to roam from the left, with Lukaku having three sharp, incisive playmakers behind him, though Werner could also be called upon to play on the left and inject even more pace. Indeed, this is the system in which he enjoyed some brilliant campaigns during his time at Everton, and is another example of his versatility. 

Romelu Lukaku feels "happy and blessed" after sealing a return to Chelsea, a club that has always remained close to his heart.

Lukaku led Inter to their first Serie A title in over a decade last season, scoring 30 goals and providing 11 assists across all competitions for Antonio Conte's team.

Conte had wanted to bring the powerful forward back to Chelsea – who sold him to Everton in 2014 – during his time in charge, but Lukaku instead moved to Manchester United.

Now 28, Lukaku is back at Stamford Bridge following a transfer reportedly worth £97.5million, a club record and just shy of the British record Manchester City paid Aston Villa for Jack Grealish.

"I'm happy and blessed to be back at this wonderful club," Lukaku, who joined Chelsea from Anderlecht in 2011 but failed to score in his first spell at the club, told the Blues' official website.

"It's been a long journey for me: I came here as a kid who had a lot to learn, now I'm coming back with a lot of experience and more mature.

"The relationship I have with this club means so much to me, as you know. I have supported Chelsea as a kid and now to be back and try to help them win more titles is an amazing feeling.

"The way the club is going fits my ambitions perfectly at 28 and just coming off winning Serie A. I think this opportunity comes at the right time and hopefully we can have a lot of success together.

"Since I left Chelsea, it's been a long journey with a lot of ups and downs, but these experiences made me strong and the challenge is to try to help the team win some more trophies. I can't wait to get started and to help the club achieve more success."

Lukaku represents the first major piece of business for Chelsea during the transfer window, with Olivier Giroud sold to Milan.

Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia added: "Romelu Lukaku is quite simply one of the world's best strikers and goalscorers.

"We are absolutely delighted to be bringing him back to the club he loves and are excited to be adding his talent to our Champions League-winning squad.

"We are of course looking to build on last season's success, and Lukaku will play a big role in achieving our targets. I'm sure all Chelsea fans will join me in saying 'welcome home, Romelu!'"

Thomas Tuchel's squad begin the new Premier League season against Crystal Palace on Saturday. 

Romelu Lukaku has returned to Chelsea after the European champions signed the Belgium forward from Inter for a reported £97.5million (€115m) fee.

After winning the Champions League, Chelsea have been in the hunt to further bolster Thomas Tuchel's squad with the acquisition of a top-tier striker.

Erling Haaland was a target, but Chelsea saw their approach rebuffed by Borussia Dortmund, who are in no need to sell the Norwegian star after they brought in €85m (£72.6m) for Jadon Sancho.

Chelsea subsequently switched their focus to Lukaku, who led Inter to their first Serie A title in a decade last season, netting 24 league goals.

An initial offer was reportedly turned down but, after Lukaku – who had earlier claimed he wanted to stay at San Siro and play under new coach Simone Inzaghi – indicated he wished to leave, Inter opted to sell their prized asset.

"I'm happy and blessed to be back at this wonderful club," Lukaku told Chelsea's website. "It's been a long journey for me: I came here as a kid who had a lot to learn, now I'm coming back with a lot of experience and more mature.

"The relationship I have with this club means so much to me, as you know. I have supported Chelsea as a kid and now to be back and try to help them win more titles is an amazing feeling."

Chelsea have by no means signed the 28-year-old cheaply, however, with the reported fee a club record.

It also falls just £2.5m short of the British transfer record set by Jack Grealish's switch to Manchester City. Lukaku has signed a five-year deal to head back to Stamford Bridge.

 

Lukaku's departure will come as a blow to Inter but does relieve some of the financial pressure on the Italian giants, as they needed to raise funds through player sales.

Achraf Hakimi has left to join Paris Saint-Germain, while Lautaro Martinez has also been touted as potentially leaving, though Inter would surely be loath to lose both of their forwards in the same transfer window.

Lukaku joined Everton on a permanent basis in 2014 after enjoying a stellar campaign on loan with the Toffees.

He had signed for the Blues as a teenager in 2011 from Anderlecht, though his first-team outings were limited before he went on to join West Brom on loan.

Lukaku became Everton's record Premier League goalscorer, netting 68 times before joining Manchester United for £75m in 2017. 

Despite a promising start at Old Trafford, Lukaku failed to find his best form under Jose Mourinho. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer allowed him to leave for Inter in 2019, a move that reignited his career.

Having thrived under Antonio Conte, Lukaku now rejoins Chelsea as one of the world's leading players at his position.

Romelu Lukaku has returned to Chelsea after the European champions signed the Belgium forward from Inter for a reported £97.5million (€115m) fee.

After winning the Champions League, Chelsea have been in the hunt to further bolster Thomas Tuchel's squad with the acquisition of a top-tier striker.

Erling Haaland was a target, but Chelsea saw their approach rebuffed by Borussia Dortmund, who are in no need to sell the Norwegian star after they brought in €85m (£72.6m) for Jadon Sancho.

Chelsea subsequently switched their focus to Lukaku, who led Inter to their first Serie A title in a decade last season, netting 24 league goals.

An initial offer was reportedly turned down but, after Lukaku – who had earlier claimed he wanted to stay at San Siro and play under new coach Simone Inzaghi – indicated he wished to leave, Inter opted to sell their prized asset.

"I'm happy and blessed to be back at this wonderful club," Lukaku told Chelsea's website. "It's been a long journey for me: I came here as a kid who had a lot to learn, now I'm coming back with a lot of experience and more mature.

"The relationship I have with this club means so much to me, as you know. I have supported Chelsea as a kid and now to be back and try to help them win more titles is an amazing feeling."

Chelsea have by no means signed the 28-year-old cheaply, however, with the reported fee a club record.

It also falls just £2.5m short of the British transfer record set by Jack Grealish's switch to Manchester City. Lukaku has signed a five-year deal to head back to Stamford Bridge.

 

Lukaku's departure will come as a blow to Inter but does relieve some of the financial pressure on the Italian giants, as they needed to raise funds through player sales.

Achraf Hakimi has left to join Paris Saint-Germain, while Lautaro Martinez has also been touted as potentially leaving, though Inter would surely be loath to lose both of their forwards in the same transfer window.

Lukaku joined Everton on a permanent basis in 2014 after enjoying a stellar campaign on loan with the Toffees.

He had signed for the Blues as a teenager in 2011 from Anderlecht, though his first-team outings were limited before he went on to join West Brom on loan.

Lukaku became Everton's record Premier League goalscorer, netting 68 times before joining Manchester United for £75m in 2017. 

Despite a promising start at Old Trafford, Lukaku failed to find his best form under Jose Mourinho. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer allowed him to leave for Inter in 2019, a move that reignited his career.

Having thrived under Antonio Conte, Lukaku now rejoins Chelsea as one of the world's leading players at his position.

The new Premier League season has not even begun yet and we're already enjoying some enthralling narratives.

Beyond the mundane matter of who might win the league, who will beat the drop and how thick the VAR lines will be, there are some tantalising stories we'll be following closely in the coming weeks.

Below, Stats Perform takes a look at some of the big talking points...

 

Blue Benitez

Predicting football is often a fool's game – especially in an era when Lionel Messi no longer plays for Barcelona – but Rafael Benitez at Everton? Who saw that coming?

The Spaniard is back in the Premier League, two years after walking away from Newcastle United, having been tempted by the same project that won over Carlo Ancelotti before the lure of a Real Madrid return became too great.

Benitez was a fans' favourite at Newcastle, arguably as much as he was at Liverpool, where he reached two Champions League finals including the unforgettable triumph in Istanbul. His connection to the red half of Merseyside meant his decision to head to Goodison Park raised the eyebrows of some and the blood pressure of others. In fact, only one man has ever managed both clubs: William Edward Barclay, Everton's first boss in 1888 and Liverpool's manager from 1892. We'll forgive you if you don't remember.

The scrutiny on Benitez, who has recorded 11 wins against Everton in his coaching career, will be severe. He has the credentials, but if he cannot quickly prove he is the man to realise the dreams of owner Farhad Moshiri and challenge the 'big six', the pressure could become pretty uncomfortable.

 

Virgil return lifts Reds

For a while, it seemed everything would be okay. In the first 11 games after Virgil van Dijk was injured against Everton last October, Liverpool conceded just six goals and kept as many clean sheets. Perhaps the loss of the Netherlands colossus would not be quite so damaging.

Of course, as injuries in defence piled up and confidence in their title chances waned, Liverpool's season ended up being one of major disappointment even though a strong final few weeks saw them snatch a Champions League spot.

Van Dijk's impact cannot really be disputed: since his move to Anfield in January 2018, Liverpool have won 75.8 per cent of matches with the centre-back in the side and only 54.3 per cent without him. They average 2.4 points per game with him (compared with 1.9 without), and even score more goals on average (2.3 compared with 1.8) when he's playing. No wonder fans began to count down the days to his return.

On Saturday, we can finally expect to watch Van Dijk in competitive action again, with Jurgen Klopp confirming he is fit to start the season. He could even begin his partnership with new signing Ibrahima Konate against Norwich City at Carrow Road. How Liverpool's campaign progresses over the opening few weeks, and how Van Dijk's return goes, might just tell us whether another title tilt is on the cards.

 

Rom-ember us?

Two of the biggest transfers in this pre-season have seen stars returning to England: Jadon Sancho, who finally got his Manchester United move for £72.9million a year after Borussia Dortmund had demanded a sizeably bigger sum; and Romelu Lukaku, who is heading to Chelsea for roughly £93m.

Sancho left Manchester City for the Bundesliga as a teenager and promptly became one of Europe's standout attacking players, with 50 goals and 57 assists in 137 appearances. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted a player to get fans on their feet, and he's almost certainly found it: Sancho completed 48 multi take-ons (beating more than one player with a dribble) in the Bundesliga, at least 14 more than any other player in his time in Germany.

For Lukaku, it's a case of unfinished business at Chelsea, the club he left back in 2014. The standout performer for Inter last season, with 30 goals and 11 assists in all competitions, he propelled his side to their first Serie A title since 2010 before taking up the chance to return to Stamford Bridge, where a consistent goalscorer could be decisive to their Premier League title hopes.

Sancho and Lukaku initially struggled to convince managers to give them a shot as youngsters in the Premier League. They return as elite players determined to prove a point. Given the costs involved, the pressure will be on both to perform – and quickly.

 

Did Jack hammer Harry's City hopes?

Manchester City are not exactly frugal in the transfer market, but rarely will they willingly pay over the odds for an individual. That's what made their willingness to spend £100million on Jack Grealish, a player with 12 senior international caps and zero Champions League experience, a touch surprising.

This is not to suggest Grealish is not a good player, of course. This is a man who was involved in a remarkable 376 open-play attacking sequences over the past two seasons for Aston Villa, a team who finished 17th and 11th in those campaigns. It's just notable that Pep Guardiola felt it was warranted to smash City's transfer record by nearly £40m to sign yet another midfielder, especially given what's going on – or not going on – with Harry Kane.

Kane was expected to be City's marquee signing in this window but, as of now, his future is unclear. He is finally due to return to Tottenham training this week but whether he is involved against City in their opening game is harder to know. And if City were willing to spend nine figures on Grealish, you can expect Spurs chairman Daniel Levy to demand top dollar for last term's golden boot winner, who has three years left on his contract.

Will City stump up the cash? Will Kane try his best to force Spurs' hand? Will he be staying in north London for at least a few months more, his form undimmed, the goals flowing as normal? It will be fascinating to watch.

 

Chelsea have been in the market for a new striker and are closing in on their man.

The European champions had been linked with Borussia Dortmund's prolific Norway international Erling Haaland.

But have turned their attention to Inter striker Romelu Lukaku, with two bids reportedly rejected last week.

 

TOP STORY - LUKAKU TO COMPLETE CHELSEA MOVE

Lukaku will finalise his £97.5m (€115m) move from Inter to Chelsea after linking up with the Blues, reports Sky Sports.

The report claims the Belgium international flew into London on Wednesday evening, after a stop in Monte Carlo.

Lukaku had already undergone the first part of his medical and agreed in principle to the deal, with the paperwork being sorted with lawyers before he inks the five-year deal worth £200,000 (€236,000) per week.

 

ROUND-UP

- As the dominoes fall, Edin Dzeko is set to join Inter from Roma with a contract agreed until June 2023 according to Fabrizio Romano.

- Sky Sports reports that Real Madrid are monitoring Chelsea's Germany defender Antonio Rudiger . Madrid lost centre-backs Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane this off-season.

- Roma head coach Jose Mourinho will speak with Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham on Thursday to try to convince him to join the Eternal City club. According to The Mirror. Chelsea and Roma have agreed terms on a £34m (€40m) deal.

- Sky in Italy claims Inter have tabled a €12m bid for PSV Eindhoven right-back Denzel Dumfries, although the Dutch club reportedly want €14m for the Netherlands international.

- Inter are also interested in Napoli skipper Lorenzo Insigne, according to Sky in Italy. The Serie A champions are trying to see if they can sign the Italy international, whose contract expires next year, for €25m.

- Arsenal are in advanced talks with Sheffield United to sign goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, according to Football London.

- Sunsport reports Manchester United are finally expected to unveil Varane as a new signing from Real Madrid on Thursday.

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