The excitement at the prospect of Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku reuniting at Inter and producing their title-winning form again was extreme for Nerazzurri fans in the summer of 2022.
Whilst some needed more time to forgive Lukaku for the way in which he left the club for Chelsea a year prior, the majority could not wait to see the Belgian and the Argentine link up again in the manner they did when they scored 49 goals between them in all competitions, helping Inter win the title under Antonio Conte. They also got 21 assists between them that season.
The reunion in the 2022/23 season has not produced anywhere close to those figures, and there is more to it than just Lukaku’s injury.
Lukaku’s slow return to fitness
It was an incredibly unfortunate blow when Lukaku picked up a hamstring injury after scoring against Lecce on the opening weekend of the season. His return to fitness has not had a clearly defined date because he did have some minutes at the 2022 World Cup for Belgium where he really shouldn’t have been used. He then continued to be unavailable for parts of January, making the odd performance here and there off of the bench.
Coming into this Spezia game, Lukaku had played 361 Serie A minutes in 2023, starting four games and coming off the bench in five. In that time, he has scored once and not assisted anyone.
Coming back from a long injury takes time, but Inter are within their rights to have expected more return than that from the Belgian, especially given he is not the sort of striker to offer much off the ball. Considering his future is up in the air and he needs to convince Inter to do what is needed to keep him, there has to be some serious improvement in the very near future as the season is slipping away.
Against Spezia on Matchday 26, he was anonymous for large spells and never really carved out a clear chance, despite Inter having so much of the ball. The linkup with Lautaro Martinez just isn’t clicking beyond the very occasional one-two.
Lukaku managed to grab himself another goal from the penalty spot against Spezia after a dubious decision, but his general play left a lot to be desired. M’Bala Nzola then cancelled the equaliser out with a winning penalty of his own to secure another defeat for Inter.
Lautaro Martinez is stagnating
On the other side of that partnership, Lautaro Martinez is being slightly left behind when it comes to the list of strikers in Europe who are regularly named as the transfer targets of the top sides.
He had a very good campaign even without Lukaku last season as he grabbed 25 goals across all competitions, 21 of which came in Serie A. This season, the Argentine is actually up to 17 goals in all competitions which is surprisingly high considering how frustrated a figure he has looked.
His inconsistencies appear to have stopped top sides from chasing him as much as they were before, even despite Inter being in a position where they need to raise money.
He missed yet another penalty against Spezia which was his fourth miss in the last seven attempts, and he just seems to be missing a ruthlessness that used to infect other players. They’ve got 11 Serie A games left to try and replicate some of the form everyone enjoyed watching under Conte.